Science and Technology Grants Promote Pakistan’s Development
(U.S.-Pakistan partnership supports work on health, food and technology)
By Carrie Loewenthal Massey
New York — When Dr. Zeba Rasmussen returned to Gilgit-Baltistan in northeast Pakistan two years ago, a man approached her in a bank.
“Don’t you remember the boy you treated for dysentery as an infant? Well, he’s recovering and in college now,” the man said to Rasmussen.
The boy was part of a group of children that Rasmussen treated, as part of her medical fellowship in infectious disease, for diarrhea and pneumonia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when both diseases were among the major causes of death for Pakistani children under age 5. “We saw dramatic changes just as a result of basic interventions,” Rasmussen, now a research fellow with the Fogarty International Center at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), said in an interview with America.gov.
Rasmussen, who was born in Karachi and moved to Washington at age 5, now has the opportunity to return to the region where she worked. She is part of an NIH project, “Water, Sanitation, Health and Hygiene Interventions in a Northern Pakistani Village,” that earned one of 27 grants announced in early September by the Pakistan-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Program ( http://www7.nationalacademies.org/dsc/PAKUS.html ).
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as Pakistan’s Ministry of Science and Technology and the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan, the program has awarded funds to collaborative ventures between Pakistani and American institutions that support Pakistan’s development goals in areas including health, water, agriculture and energy, and expand Pakistani universities’ capacities for science and technology research and education.
The Science and Technology Cooperation Program has awarded three previous rounds of funding, supporting 11 projects in 2005, 16 in 2006 and 19 in 2008. With a total of 73 funded projects, the program is an element in the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue ( http://www.america.gov/st/sca-english/2010/July/20100521105053kJleinaD0.833172.html ) and is a key focus for that partnership’s science and technology working group.
Potential grantees’ projects undergo a transparent peer-review process, with final award decisions made by a consensus of the two Pakistani and two U.S. funding agencies.
The newly funded projects include a range of focuses and topics, from ways to improve drinking water and to better manage wastewater and sewage infrastructures to establishing centers for research on food and for safer construction methods. Also included are programs in education and training and crop research and improvements in agriculture and livestock management. Research on medicinal plants, improved solar water heating systems and public health issues such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and tuberculosis are also among the grant projects. A full list of the 27 grant projects ( http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/dsc/pakistan/PGA_058463 ) is available on the National Academies website.
HELPING PAKISTANIS ADVOCATE FOR BETTER HEALTH
Rasmussen and her team at NIH will use their grant in partnership with Karakoram International University in Gilgit-Baltistan, the Aga Khan University in Karachi, and the University of Punjab in Lahore. They will study the change in the incidence of diarrhea and pneumonia in young children since the interventions put in place 20 years ago and examine water quality and use of newer latrines. With the project, residents will better understand contamination levels in food and water supplies and the rates of diarrhea and pneumonia among their children, Rasmussen said.
“They can advocate for and adopt better interventions to improve health,” she said. “They will know if previous interventions have worked.”
Rasmussen can also check up on her previous subjects, the peers of the boy she heard about from the man at the bank. The project includes assessment of the mortality, growth and educational status of the children treated for diarrhea and pneumonia in 1989 and onwards. This data will help determine the long-term health impact of early childhood diarrhea and pneumonia on growth and educational development, according to Rasmussen.
“For me, [the project] is a dream come true,” she said. “It’s unusual to have a set of kids followed for such a long period of time that you can follow up with 20 years later.”
ADVANCING NATURAL DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Another project among the 2010 grantees focuses on increasing Pakistan’s capacity to reduce the risk of damage from potential natural disasters, including developing an early warning system for floods. A collaboration between the University of Oklahoma and Pakistan’s National University of Science and Technology, the project includes training Pakistani university academics in disaster management techniques.
Yang Hong, associate professor at the University of Oklahoma, explained in an e-mail interview that building disaster preparedness knowledge at the university level will help Pakistan develop and support its own governmental initiatives to manage disasters.
Monsoon flooding that began in late July has now affected 20 million people in Pakistan, leaving one-fifth of the country under water and prompting intense and sustained relief assistance from the United States ( http://www.america.gov/st/sca-english/2010/August/20100818164414kjleinad0.2591211.html ) and other international donors.
“[Currently, the] flood risk assessment and management system in Pakistan basically deals with rescue and relief …. After each flood disaster episode the government incurs considerable expenditure directed at rescue, relief and rehabilitation,” he said.
The early warning system will help map flood zones, determine the potential economic impact of flooding and reduce the risk of damage and fatalities in vulnerable communities, he added.
CONTINUED SUPPORT FOR PAKISTAN’S DEVELOPMENT
All the newly awarded grant projects will build on the nearly 5,000 Pakistani lives touched by Science and Technology Cooperation Program funding to date, according to a program fact sheet.
Past projects have facilitated the installation of solar-powered energy and water systems in remote villages and established a nationwide network of health care facilities to train health care providers to treat infectious diseases without using unnecessary antibiotics. Other initiatives have helped Pakistani universities and research institutes enhance their technical and research capacities.
To promote the program’s emphasis on collaboration among American and Pakistani partners, grantees will meet at a joint conference in spring 2011, where they will share their research findings.
Also in the spring, program officials expect to issue a new call for proposals for the next round of funding.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)