The world is getting better, fast.
If you want proof, look no further than Ethiopia. A
generation ago, 21 percent of Ethiopian children died before turning 5. Now,
that figure is 6 percent.
Progress like this doesn’t happen by accident. Ethiopia devised
an aggressive Health Sector Transformation Plan, and the government is taking
innovative approaches to meet its goals. For example, just over a decade ago,
Ethiopia totally reinvented its primary health system, hiring tens of thousands
of Health Extension Workers to reach every single Ethiopian with basic care.
Now, to generate the next set of breakthroughs, Ethiopia has
launched a program called Grand Challenges Ethiopia, joining a growing family
of similar Grand Challenges programs. The original Grand Challenges program was
launched in 2003, with the goal of stimulating innovation in global health, an
area that was starving for new ideas. Since then, the Grand Challenges model
has spread around to world, to,Brazil, Canada, India, Israel, and South Africa,
to name a few. The African Academy of Science and the New Partnership for
Africa’s Development just launched a Grand Challenges Africa to stimulate
innovation across the continent.
The Grand Challenges idea is simple. Usually, funders decide
how they want to go after a problem, and they pay a specific group to take a
specific approach. Grand Challenges flips that model around: We specify the end
goal we’re trying to reach—say, better ways to control mosquitoes that transmit
diseases—and we ask anyone with a great idea to apply for funding for their
approach. This way, we get a much broader range of researchers pursuing many
more strategies than we ever could have imagined on our own.
And that is exactly why Ethiopia is now running its own
Grand Challenges program. It needs better ideas about how to tackle some of the
most stubborn health problems the country is facing.
Grand Challenges Ethiopia has identified three focus areas
maternal and newborn health, because almost half
of the deaths of children under 5 happen in the first 28 days of life;
health in pastoralist communities, because
progress among them has been comparatively very slow;
and early childhood development, because the
entire global health community is beginning to zero in on the importance of
neurocognitive and physical development in children’s earliest years.
One of the greatest aspects of Grand Challenges is that,
together, the programs form a global community of scientists working on the
same sorts of problems. We are crowding in as much expertise and as much
variety of experience as we possibly can, and the addition of Grand Challenges
Ethiopia only adds more richness to our effort. We are looking forward to learning
with, and from, Ethiopian investigators in the years to come.
The result will be that the world gets even
better, even faster.