USAID report gives few details on progress reducing child mortality

Head of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Rajiv Shah speaks with children on the Turkish-Syrian border on November 27, 2012.
Credit: Adem Altan

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) yesterday released its first progress report for USAID Forward, the major reform effort it initiated in 2010 “to change the way the Agency does business.” 

“Development is a discipline,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, in a keynote speech to mark the report’s publication. With USAID Forward, the agency has put forth a new model for development very much defined by the language of business. Shah, a Wharton School of Business graduate, spoke about metrics, results, cost-benefit analysis, new partnerships and innovation.

In the few years since the launch of USAID Forward, the program has initiated significant changes, including an effort to end preventable child deaths around the world. An estimated 6.9 million children under five years old die each year — largely in poor countries — from preventable diseases, according to UNICEF. Last year, USAID launched a global campaign to reduce child mortality, including an awareness-building movement called “Every Child Deserves a 5th Birthday.”

But despite Shah's and USAID’s new emphasis on transparency and accountability, there were few details in the USAID Forward report about the agency’s progress towards reducing child mortality. The achievements USAID did share are encouraging, but vague.

“The Call to Action in Child Survival rallied the world behind a new approach to end preventable child death,” Shah wrote in a foreword to the report, noting that so far, more than 170 countries have signed a pledge to reduce child mortality.

The report itself briefly highlighted several country-specific programs that have reduced, or are aiming to reduce, child mortality, including those in Afghanistan and Bangladesh. And in his annual letter, also published this week, Shah pointed to evolving work with local partners to improve child health in several countries, including in India and Nigeria. But neither the report nor Shah’s annual letter provided a comprehensive analysis of program achievements.

Non-profits such as Oxfam America and ONE commended USAID Forward’s progress report and overarching strategy to end global poverty. But they also pushed for more progress.

“The US needs to live up to its commitments to releasing more information about where and how aid is being spent, and put more USAID personnel and effort towards building direct relationships with governments, NGOs and entrepreneurs in developing countries,” said Gregory Adams, Oxfam America’s director of aid effectiveness, in a statement yesterday.

ONE wrote to its members in a blog post yesterday, “USAID, like ONE members like you, have always been at the forefront of the fight. We just need to keep it up.”

Shah delivered his keynote speech at an event held yesterday afternoon at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), co-hosted by the Center for American Progress. Before Shah got up to speak, AEI’s Gary Schmitt introduced Shah as the “Kevin Durant of the international development world,” referring to the star American basketball player.

But in his speech Shah acknowledged that the USAID results were not “perfect.” Rather, he said, they show “we are trying to learn and get better” every day. 

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