Devex World 2018, Yemen's local heroes, and disease elimination milestones: This week in development

Photo by: Devex

Attacks in Yemen highlight aid’s reliance on local staff, Paraguay and Ghana achieve health milestones, and Devex World charts a path from “beneficiaries” to “consumers.” This week in development:

The leading edge of global development looks more consumer-driven than donor-driven, according to organizations and entrepreneurs who gathered in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for Devex World. As official development assistance stagnates, and as technology and data open new possibilities to understand better what people in developing countries actually want, aid programs that are achieving some of the biggest breakthroughs are beginning to view the people they serve more as “customers,” with a complex variety of motivations and problems, than as “beneficiaries,” passively receiving whatever assistance comes their way. “What if we think about the mother in a village in rural India with the same kind of sophistication as we think about the upper-middle class Chevy buyer in the suburbs of New York?” said Malcolm Gladwell, who spoke at Devex World. While technology and data are central to this shift, the basic argument is nothing new. First Lady of Afghanistan Rula Ghani reminded international organizations that learning about a place should be their prerequisite to engaging with it. “I’m very grateful for all the generosity and wanting to help, but from now on, you need to make sure that whatever you’re doing, you have asked the Afghans what they want,” she said.

Calling in from his second visit to the frontlines of the Ebola response effort in the Democratic Republic of Congo, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus updated Devex World attendees on the latest developments of the outbreak. He cited significant progress in DRC, but warned that the world is failing the Central African Republic. “It’s a neglected crisis — political, financially, operationally,” he said. “The international community has neglected the Central African Republic, and this is not right.”

Pressed to confirm whether the newly proposed U.S. development finance corporation would maintain strong environmental and social safeguards, Overseas Private Investment Corp. CEO Ray Washburne told Devex World attendees “absolutely.” Asked about potential linkages between the new institution and the U.S. Agency for International Development, Washburne said “I need USAID — all our 300 employees are based here, in D.C. I don't have field offices.”

Humanitarian groups operating in Yemen describe an “incredibly unpredictable landscape” where their ability to deliver assistance to 22 million people in need is threatened by a Saudi-led offensive against Hodeida, a vital transit city. “In recent weeks, the thing I notice most is people feel a complete lack of control. Humanitarian organizations typically engage with parties to the conflict and put regulations in place, but we have seen those disregarded as the rules of war seem to be disregarded,” Suze van Meegen, protection and advocacy adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Devex. Some of the largest aid organizations have removed staff from Yemen in recent weeks due to security concerns, drawing renewed attention to the critical role that national staff play in sustaining humanitarian and crisis operations, Devex reported. “It does beg the question and something I think we all need to reflect on is, if we can expect Yemeni staff or local staff in any country to stay and deliver when things get dangerous, why aren’t we able to trust them [to take the lead] in the same way when things are safe?” Van Meegen said.

Paraguay is officially malaria-free, according to the World Health Organization, which made the announcement on Monday. The certification represents the culmination of an extensive process to achieve the designation. The country has had no indigenous cases of malaria since 2012, has shown the capacity to prevent the parasite from returning, and has been subject to WHO inspections and recommendations. While the milestone is significant — Paraguay is the first country in the Americas to be granted this status in 45 years — it is also not irreversible. Malaria is spreading rapidly in Venezuela’s deteriorating health environment and could spread to other South American countries that have eliminated the disease. Paraguay must also ensure a new generation of doctors, who view malaria as an exotic disease and not a common occurence, remain equipped to surveil and contain it, Catherine Cheney reported for Devex.

In other disease elimination news, on Wednesday Ghana became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate trachoma, the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide. Trachoma, spread by flies and human contact, begins as an eye infection and untreated develops into a painful condition where the eyelashes harden and turn inwards, ultimately leading to blindness. Ghana is the sixth country to achieve elimination, 20 years after a WHO commitment to stamp out the disease. On Tuesday, at Devex World, Pfizer Vice President of Corporate Responsibility Caroline Roan announced that the pharmaceutical giant would extend until 2025 its commitment to donate the antibiotic Zithromax to other countries working toward elimination.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.