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USAID's Greene: Helping save lives with low-cost tools

From the Partnership for Public Service
Monday, November 2, 2009; 5:17 AM

Millions of women and children in developing countries die of preventable diseases each year.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in cooperation with international organizations and governments in impoverished parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas, is working to change this.

The groups spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to train health care workers, improve information systems and provide medical supplies.

Despite criticism surrounding the cost of aid, Richard Greene, the head of USAID's Office of Health, Infectious Diseases, and Nutrition in the Bureau of Global Health, says the organization's efforts have paid off.

"There is a lot of skepticism over whether the United States should send money overseas to developing countries when there are so many needs here at home," said Greene. "But these are initiatives where USAID has made foreign assistance available to improve health and save lives, and it is having great success."

Children in developing countries die each year from common illnesses such as measles, diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria, while newborns die from delivery complications, tetanus and infections. Many women in developing countries die from complicated childbirth and malnutrition.

About two-thirds of deaths among youth are preventable with existing, mostly low-cost interventions, according to Greene.

Combined with other international efforts, the USAID program has helped some of the poorest countries in the world to minimize the number of preventable deaths.

The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that about 8.8 million children worldwide died in 2008, more than 95 percent of them in the developing world. Four years ago, more than 12 million children worldwide died.

Greene manages a large office in Washington that supports maternal and child health issues, such as malaria, tuberculosis .and influenza, bringing years of experience that he began with his service as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Ivory Coast in 1978 and has included numerous overseas assignments.

In the Peace Corps, Greene saw children suffering from preventable diseases such as polio and the measles.

Alfred Bartlett, a doctor .and senior adviser .on child survival issues at USAID, said Greene "brings a clear sense of how things work in the field, what the lives of the people are like and what services they need.

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