Ebola forces new strategy, USAID looks at gender pay equity, Taliban attacks NGOs: This week in development

A health worker wearing protection gear at a treatment center in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by: REUTERS / Baz Ratner

Donors adapt strategies to stop Ebola from spiraling out of control, USAID takes aim at gender pay equity in contracts, and Taliban militants attack American NGOs in Afghanistan. This week in development:

The rapidly worsening Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is forcing global health organizations to rethink their treatment and response strategies. Ongoing attacks against health workers, resistance to health interventions, funding shortfalls, and general insecurity in eastern DRC are combining to create a situation that the World Health Organization and others have struggled to contain. The WHO now plans to adapt its vaccination strategy to cover a wider group of people who could potentially have come in contact with Ebola. The number of cases has surged passed 1,500, and over 1,000 people have died. The daily number of new cases is now in the double digits, and shows little sign of slowing. Similarly, the U.S. Agency for International Development intends to take a more “aggressive” approach to its Ebola-related activities, according to the agency’s chief. That would include conducting more activities within communities aimed at building trust and reducing their resistance to Ebola response efforts. Some worry that plan could run into problems within the U.S. government’s own bureaucracy. The Trump administration has taken a hard line on restricting funding to countries that are not doing enough to combat human trafficking, including DRC. On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez warned that a lack of clarity about what activities can and cannot move forward could impede USAID’s efforts to expand its activities in Ebola-affected areas.

USAID has signaled that it plans to seek policy changes that could achieve greater gender pay equity among people hired under contracts. Administrator Mark Green announced the potential change on Monday at an internal conference for the agency’s contracting staff. It relates to a mandatory government document that collects personal information about people who could fill key contracting positions within USAID’s programs. Among the pieces of information that the “Contractor Employee Biographical Data Sheet” asks for is salary history, and USAID currently uses this record to determine pay rates for contractors — limiting compensation to 5-10% above contractors’ latest salaries. Some experts argue that this practice disadvantages women who are more likely than men to have gaps in their employment history, or simply to be paid less than men for similar work. “We’re hoping that this change will have an equalizing effect for women and their participation,” Green said. At the same time, Green announced that USAID plans to hire more contracting staff, and to seek ways to give its contracting officers in the field more discretion over award-making decisions. These developments are part of an ongoing procurement reform effort inside USAID, which seeks to broaden the agency’s partner base beyond the current core of mostly large international organizations.

Taliban militants attacked the headquarters of American development contractor Counterpart International in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least five people, including three employees of the nonprofit organization CARE, which has offices near where the attack occurred. The siege lasted five and a half hours and began when a car bomb exploded, which was what caused the deaths of CARE’s employees, the organization said in a statement. The attack specifically targeted American development organizations, with a Taliban spokesperson describing Counterpart as “a U.S. network,” which conducts “harmful Western activities inside Afghanistan.” U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass wrote on Twitter “The targeted organization helps local communities, trains journalists and supports the Afghan people. For this, it is the target of senseless violence.” The New York Times reported that the attack represents a repudiation of peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, and a signal that the group intends to continue fighting.

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.