The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given a $15 million five-year grant to the Earth Institute, Columbia University, to support scientific research and create science-based tools and technologies that can be used by sub-Saharan African countries and other developing nations throughout the world to alleviate poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
The new grant will support the scaling up of Earth Institute projects already underway throughout Africa and other impoverished regions in the world, as well as the development of new applications. This grant is the second one provided by the Gates Foundation; the first in 2006 helped establish many of the scientific gains and research being practiced today.
The Earth Institute is engaged with scaling up its community health workers program to the national level in countries where it is working to help bring health care to remote and poor regions in Africa.
In the coming five years, the institute will work to expand local projects, transfer knowledge and encourage national governments to scale up and adopt the lessons learned from Earth Institute projects into national strategies. Some of the most promising advances include improvements in primary health care systems using eHealth and mHealth; community-based control of malaria and HIV-AIDS; rural clean water and electrical systems using smart grids; improved secondary education and gender parity in classrooms using ICT tools; and better nutritional diversity in agriculture and food consumption.
The eight Millennium Development Goals, formally adopted by the United Nations in 2000, set out to eliminate extreme poverty and improve health, education, environmental sustainability and gender equality by 2015. Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs has been the UN’s leading advisor on achieving the Millennium Development Goals since 2002.
“Science and technology are the most powerful drivers of long-term change throughout the poorest countries in the world,” said Jeffrey Sachs. “With the support of the Gates Foundation, the Earth Institute is a leading pioneer in the application of cutting-edge technologies to fight poverty, hunger, and disease. With the new grant, the Earth Institute will put emphasis on scaling up these applications to national and continental scales. We anticipate major breakthroughs to help countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”
The core goals of the grant are to support the Millennium Development Goals through innovative scientific research; enhance high-level advocacy and policy at the national and international level; and use the findings of research to expand Earth Institute projects globally.
“The Gates Foundation is proud to renew our support to the Earth Institute to promote science and innovation that can be scaled up and incorporated into national poverty reduction strategies,” said Melanie Walker, Deputy Director for Special Initiatives at the Gates Foundation. “These types of strategic partnerships are critical towards having long lasting impact to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”
With support from the foundation, the Earth Institute will be able to continue and expand its Millennium Development Goals advisory role and scale up work in Nigeria, Haiti and India. The institute also will continue to expand its work in Mali, Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Benin, Cameroon, Liberia, Madagascar, Rwanda, Kenya, Chad and South Sudan, Cambodia, Bhutan, Greece, Jordan and Timor-Leste.
In one program, the Earth Institute has helped develop networks of community health workers, who make up the backbone of a health care delivery system in poor and remote African communities that lack access to health facilities. They play a key role in the effort to improve child and maternal health and reduce mortality. The use of cell phones with access to electronic health care information, and the creation of health care teams to give the frontline workers better access to medical advice, helps improve diagnosis and treatment. Next steps would include creating the training and management infrastructure to allow the programs to sustain themselves and expand to regional and national scales.
Using text messaging, the ChildCount+ project helps community health workers collect and submit health information about the households they visit, and in return receive guidance on treatment and referrals. The system allows faster and better tracking of epidemiological trends and health outcomes, and allows for better management of the health care worker system.
Cell phones are also used to manage the remote delivery, metering and payment for electricity and clean water in areas where the expense of creating centralized systems has proven too expensive.
In another program, Earth Institute researchers study local soils to determine the nutrients and other factors limiting yields of food crops. The work helps farmers make better use of water and fertilizers. To expand the program, the Gates Foundation grant could help develop field test kits for soil to help farmers quickly see what factors are limiting growth.