October 23, 2013 |

Value of research extends beyond the lab

Side view of woman looking into microscpope.
Research and development in global health funded by the United States benefits people everywhere, and often US business. Photo: PATH/Eric Becker.

Over the years, the United States’ commitment to funding global health research has led to the development of remarkable tools that have saved millions of lives both at home and abroad. Today, research and development supported by the people of the United States—often through the US Agency for International Development (USAID)—continues to make a better life possible for people around the world. Support from USAID helps bring forth breakthrough tools that combat tenacious killers, such as complications of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as new threats, including emerging resistance to some of our most effective medicines.

Without sustained support for research and development, we will not make progress on these and other challenges that affect us all. Yesterday, PATH and the Global Health Technologies Coalition hosted a congressional briefing, “Saving Lives Through Research,” to examine some of the health innovations USAID has supported over the decades, and to look at future technologies that the agency is helping to usher through the research pipeline now. To see highlights from the congressional briefing, follow #RandD4Health.

An investment in better health

USAID’s research and development programs, such as HealthTech, a partnership with PATH, have produced technologies that are already saving lives and decreasing misery the world over. Now, Congress can help USAID increase its impact on public health by supporting the recently introduced 21st Century Global Health Technology Act. The legislation will increase USAID’s capabilities in health research and has the potential to greatly advance the development of tools and technologies to combat killers—including  tuberculosis, neglected tropical diseases, and health conditions that harm mothers and their newborn babies—and in turn, save lives.

Research and development in global health is not only improving health, it’s also a smart economic investment, creating jobs and driving business activity in the United States. Sixty-four cents of every dollar invested in global health research by the United States goes directly to US-based researchers. This investment is made possible by USAID’s public-private partnerships, an effective way to combine the resources and know-how of government, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations.

A smart sticker, and smart funding

The creation of the vaccine vial monitor (VVM) is an example of the potential of public-private partnership. Starting in the 1980s with funding from USAID, PATH worked with the World Health Organization to find a way to track the exposure of individual vaccine vials to heat, which can sap vaccine’s potency. We then teamed up with New Jersey–based Temptime Corporation to develop VVMs suitable for vaccines used in immunization programs.

VVMs not only help protect children from disease by helping to ensure vaccine is viable, they save money. UNICEF and WHO have estimated that the use of VVMs on basic vaccines saves the global health community more than $5 million each year by preventing undamaged vaccines from being discarded. Temptime, meanwhile, now focuses exclusively on health products and business is booming—since development of the vial monitor, annual revenue has increased more than seven-fold.

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  • Portrait of Claire Wingfield.
    Claire Wingfield is a senior policy officer with the Advocacy and Public Policy Program at PATH.