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February 27, 2019

'Teach' tool not for evaluating teachers, says World Bank education boss (Devex)

From the article:

LONDON — The World Bank’s head of education has said its new teacher observation tool is not intended to be used to find and fire bad teachers or to undermine teacher professionalism, after concerns were raised by some experts.

“This is not an evaluation tool,” Jaime Saavedra, who heads up the bank’s global education practice and was previously minister of education in Peru, told Devex. “Policymakers need to know what’s happening inside the classroom and the quality of the interaction between the teachers and students … [and] this tool is designed to see better what’s happening there,” he added.

The bank officially launched Teach, an open-source classroom observation tool for use in primary schools in low- and middle-income countries to help improve the quality of teaching, last month. The tool is part of a broader effort to address what the bank has called a global “learning crisis” by focusing on teachers, which it says are the single most important factor in improving learning outcomes.

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However, other experts speaking at the official Teach launch event in Washington, D.C., last month disagreed. Eric Hanushek, senior fellow at Stanford University, said “this is a clear evaluation tool at the probationary stage … It provides a basis for counseling new teachers on how they should behave … but then again if they don’t change over the first few years you also have information you should use.”

Barbara Bruns from the Center for Global Development, said that even if not intended as an evaluation tool, there is a danger it could be seen by teachers as such and rejected.

For Saavedra, however, improving meritocracy in teaching is a political issue. “The key point on education reform for many middle- and low-income countries … is to take politics out of the classroom and the education system. We see too many cases where teachers and principals … are appointed on a political basis,” he told Devex.

 

February 26, 2019

DFID is not independent, Mordaunt reiterates (Devex)

From the article:

LONDON — Despite raising eyebrows last month for refusing to give a firm answer about the future of the U.K. Department for International Development, secretary of state Penny Mordaunt has again claimed that DFID is not an “independent” department in a letter obtained by Devex on Monday.

In a letter to Preet Gill — the Labour Party’s shadow minister for international development, who was seeking clarification of Mordaunt’s earlier remarks — the U.K. aid chief wrote that her department “could not … be described as ‘independent,’” and that she hoped to “move the debate about DFID on from being one about where our desks are situated to being focused on delivering the global goals.”

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Ian Mitchell, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development think tank, told Devex by email that he would “welcome DFID working more closely with other government departments — using all our policy levers ... on investment, environment, health, and migration to accelerate progress towards the global goals ... But ... it’s unusual for a Cabinet Minister to assert their department’s lack of independence — [the] Treasury and Cabinet Office work across Whitehall, and may have loaned staff [to other departments] to assist on Brexit — but you wouldn’t hear their ministers say those departments aren’t independent. That leaves the impression this is about signalling future direction.”

 

February 26, 2019

The Future of Work in the Developing World (Institute for Social Science Research)

Center for Global Development President, Masood Ahmed, delivered a public lecture at The University of Queensland, hosted by the Institute for Social Science Research, together with the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Social Science, and the Sustainable Minerals Institute.

Click here to watch!

February 26, 2019

USAID looks for congressional support for reorganization plans (Devex)

From the article:

WASHINGTON — U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green will testify at the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday in a hearing that will likely offer a window into the status of the agency’s ongoing reorganization.

Many of the changes Green and his team hope to make require approval from lawmakers. The agency laid out its request in a series of congressional notifications last summer. The notifications, which Devex obtained, provide an in-depth look at the reasons behind Green’s proposed changes, what the agency’s leaders expect will be required to make them happen, and the specific problems each of the proposals are intended to fix.

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“Operating as two distinct organizational units to address a common set of humanitarian issues is inherently inefficient as it requires two sets of management and support structures with separate policies, processes, systems, tools and staffs,” the notification reads.

It also creates an unhelpful barrier to delivering complementary forms of assistance, such as food and health interventions, as Jeremy Konyndyk, former head of OFDA, noted on Twitter.

Under the new plan, OFDA and Food for Peace would merge into a consolidated bureau for humanitarian assistance, which would, according to USAID, “enhance the provision of the full-spectrum of humanitarian-assistance activities to include prevention, mitigation, and disaster risk-reduction, to enable communities to recover from, and respond to, emergencies on their own, and over time reduce the need for expensive humanitarian assistance, particularly in areas of recurrent crises.”

The idea of the merger is not new. Under the previous administration, USAID commissioned a study from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company to explore the idea and found that it could lead to reduced duplication and cost savings.

Konyndyk, who led OFDA during the Obama administration, applauded Congress’ approval of the plan, noting that the competing structures made previous efforts at coordination difficult.

“Historically this distinction led to weaker programming. During my time at AID, we tried to do integrated food/non-food grants during the Ethiopia drought of 2016, and found ourselves tied up in months of red tape due to different systems and grant requirements,” he wrote on Twitter.

 

February 25, 2019

Pregnant women in DRC to be provided with Ebola vaccine (European Scientist)

From the article:

Last Wednesday 20 February, a committee advising the Congolese Ministry of Health made the decision to provide the Ebola vaccine to pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as babies under one year old, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In a policy U-turn, the decision was also backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) based on the advice of an independent advisory body ― the strategic advisory group of experts on immunization (SAGE).

Current WHO estimates place the number of Ebola cases in the DRC at 853 and there have been 521 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak in August 2018. The outbreak is worsened by ongoing armed conflict in the North Kivu Province.

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Advocates for vaccinating pregnant women against Ebola have long argued that under the given circumstances, the potential benefits far outweigh the potential harm. Moreover, unless the vaccine is actually given to pregnant women, there will be no data to determine whether it is safe or not. This knowledge would also be beneficial in future outbreaks, according to a statement given by Carleigh Krubiner, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development.

Krubiner also added in her statement, “The DRC’s decision to extend Ebola vaccine coverage to pregnant women is a huge step forward, not only for pregnant women in areas affected by outbreaks but for all pregnant women who may face the threat of Ebola in the future.” The recent decision has been praised by many others as well, including Doctors Without Borders.

Vaccinated pregnant women in the DRC will be closely monitored until after they have given birth to determine whether the vaccine has any adverse effects. The panel of experts has also recommended including pregnant and breastfeeding women in trials of three other new experimental Ebola vaccines on at-risk populations in neighbouring areas.

 

February 24, 2019

Providence native faces diplomatic challenge as U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe (Providence Journal)

From the article:

U.S. Ambassador Brian Nichols, a Moses Brown School graduate and son of a Brown University professor, has an opportunity to help foster democracy in the African nation at a “pivotal and precarious time” in its history, according to one observer.

The air traffic control tower at the airport in Zimbabwe’s capital city has a distinctive design, inspired by African history.

A Rhode Islander willing to look past the tower’s triangular windows and other style details could easily liken it to a New England lighthouse.

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So far, the policy has not produced all of the desired results.

“Ambassador Nichols has arrived in Zimbabwe at a really pivotal and precarious time, which is exciting for a diplomat,” says a prominent Zimbabwe observer, Todd Moss, a senior fellow at the Center For Global Development. “But it also makes it difficult.”

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Moss says.

The election itself, while a marked improvement from the Mugabe era, fell short of international standards, according to observers sponsored by the U.S.

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February 22, 2019

South Africans left in the dark as blackouts return (The National)

From the article:

Cape Town // It was almost possible to hear a collective groan of "not again" rattle around South Africa as the country was once again hit by rolling electricity blackouts.

Around February 4, a balmy summer's Sunday, which most South Africans use to kick back with family and friends, the state energy utility Eskom announced blackouts would be implemented over the next week. And, it said, these would be "Level 4" power cuts, the most serious level before a complete nationwide electrical cut-off.

As Monday rolled around and the markets came on line, the South African currency the rand had its worst week in more than a year, breaching the crucial 14 to the dollar level over the next few days, losing almost 5 per cent against the greenback in total. The economic knock-on of the rand’s fall will be felt quickly, as fuel prices are set to soar.

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A report last year by the Centre for Global Development found that In some of the continent’s largest economies like Nigeria, Angola, and Ghana, more than 25 per cent of businesses lose double-digit sales due to power outages - with some firms averaging losses of 31 per cent.

Vijaya Ramachandran, the study’s lead author and a senior fellow at CGD, said: “We found that unreliable power can have a major impact on businesses, dampening their growth prospects and undermining job creation opportunities.”

South Africa has a dire unemployment problem but, unlike most African countries, it does not have the peasant-culture that allows people to become independent food producers outside the formal cash economy. Most, therefore, depend on jobs to earn cash money in order to survive.

The economy grew only about 1 per cent in 2018, latest government data shows, and it is economic consensus that South Africa needs 5 per cent growth to achieve job creation.

“An electricity crisis soon becomes a governance crisis, since all services depend on electricity,” says Johannesburg based author and artist Sizwe Mpofu Walsh. “An electricity crisis also soon becomes an economic crisis, since power and production are linked.”

Eskom itself though will probably have to shed jobs. The company’s own figures show that in 2003 it employed 32,000 people; today that number stands at 47,600, while still producing about the same amount of electricity.

Getting the unions, and even the bulk of the ANC itself to be on board with desperately needed changes to Eskom’s structure will be the defining task facing Mr Ramaphosa’s presidency, if he wins the upcoming elections as expected.

Should he fail, so will Eskom and with it, sub-Saharan Africa’s only industrial economy.

 

February 22, 2019

Explained: Belt and Road Initiative (South China Morning Post)

From the article:

The “Belt and Road Initiative” is a vast China-centred strategy to grow global trade that involves dozens of countries and more than US$1 trillion in investment.

It spans Asia, Europe and Africa, although projects in other regions have also been named under its banner.

Supporters laud it as a bold plan to fulfil the need among emerging markets for infrastructure investment, which Beijing has promoted as a way to boost regional cooperation and connectivity.

But critics warn about a lack of transparency and sustainability with some of the projects – including major ports and high-speed railway networks. There are also concerns that Chinese companies are the sole beneficiaries of the initiative.

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What have been the results so far?

Despite the initial excitement surrounding the initiative’s announcement, construction on some projects has stalled and some countries involved now want to review the deals they originally signed with China, citing fears of unsustainable borrowing.

In December 2017, Sri Lanka was forced to lease the port of Hambantota and 15,000 acres of surrounding land to Beijing for 99 years after Colombo failed to repay the loans used in its construction.

Malaysia, Pakistan and the Maldives have since asked to renegotiate some of their China-backed projects, wary of mounting debt.

Credit rating agency Moody’s has highlighted the lack of transparency surrounding many belt and road projects and the high interest rates attached to some of them, while the Centre for Global Development has identified eight countries – including Laos, the Maldives, Djibouti, Pakistan and Mongolia – at risk of debt distress because of financing related to the initiative.

Xi moved to allay such fears in September 2018 when he told more than 50 African leaders visiting Beijing that a US$60 billion investment package did not “come with any political conditions attached”.

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February 21, 2019

Pregnant women to be given Ebola vaccine in WHO policy U-turn (The Telegraph)

From the article:

Pregnant and breastfeeding women will be given the experimental Ebola vaccine, marking a U-turn in World Health Organization (WHO) policy. 

A meeting of the WHO's expert vaccine advisory group reversed a previous decision to deny pregnant women the vaccine because there was not enough evidence of its safety.

Pregnant women are usually excluded from all immunisation campaigns because vaccines against infectious diseases like Ebola are rarely tested or approved for use in pregnant women.

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Last year a report from an international group of experts called for pregnant women to be included in vaccine development and campaigns.

It said the exclusion of pregnant women from vaccine research and development was unacceptable and “business as usual simply cannot continue”.

Carleigh Krubiner, one of the authors of that report, welcomed WHO's policy reversal.

“This policy change will enable pregnant and lactating women to benefit from the protection the vaccine offers against Ebola infection, safeguarding their lives while also protecting their babies, families, and communities.

"It will also provide a critical opportunity to advance the evidence base on the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine so that decision makers in the future will be able to make informed decisions about how best to protect their populations, including pregnant women, in the event of an outbreak,” she said. 

She added that pregnant women should no longer be left out of vaccine development strategies. "With global efforts now underway to develop a range of vaccines against devastating epidemic threats, we have to make sure pregnant women are on the agenda, so they will never again be left unprotected in the face of future outbreaks.”

 

February 21, 2019

Ebola vaccine will be provided to women who are pregnant, marking reversal in policy (STAT)

From the article:

Women who are pregnant and lactating, as well as children under the age of 1, will be offered access to an experimental Ebola vaccine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, officials said Wednesday, marking the reversal of a controversial policy that had drawn fire from public health experts.

The decision was made by a committee advising the Congolese Ministry of Health, but received the support of the World Health Organization.

The decision to exclude pregnant women from the vaccination program sparked blowback from some experts, with some calling the policy “indefensible.”

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Carleigh Krubiner, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, welcomed the news.

“The DRC’s decision to extend Ebola vaccine coverage to pregnant women is a huge step forward, not only for pregnant women in areas affected by outbreaks but for all pregnant women who may face the threat of Ebola in the future,” Krubiner said in a statement.

To date, there have been 844 confirmed and probable cases in this outbreak, which is now in its seventh month. Of those, 528 people have died.

Krubiner said the policy reversal will not only offer pregnant women the protection of the vaccine, but also provide a critical chance to see how the vaccine, which is being developed by Merck, works in these women. That knowledge will be of benefit in future outbreaks, she said.

Reluctance to offer the vaccine to pregnant and lactating women has stemmed from the fact it is a live-virus vaccine. The virus it contains is not Ebola; it is a livestock virus called vesicular stomatitis virus that can infect, but does not sicken people. A key protein from the Ebola virus has been fused to the VSV virus, which then induces the immune system to develop a protective response when it encounters Ebola.

Traditionally there has been concern about using live-virus vaccines in pregnant women. Krubiner and others have argued that women ought to be informed of the risks and offered the choice.

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