Abt Associates: Bold thinkers driving real-world impact
Abt-led projects are helping people in troubled nations access better health care, improve harvests, and avoid malaria.
Approximately one out of four people live in a fragile state – a country unable to provide basic services and security to its residents. People in fragile states are more vulnerable to a variety of shocks than those in more stable countries.
Abt Associates’ mission – to improve the quality of life and economic well-being of people worldwide – is particularly relevant in fragile states where Abt is leading projects: South Sudan, Nigeria, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Each has struggled due to a natural disaster, political conflicts, or a lack of government and/or private sector capacity.
“Abt’s projects in these countries are protecting people from malaria, improving maternal health care, increasing agricultural productivity and strengthening health systems,” said Abt Associates President and CEO Kathleen Flanagan. “Working in fragile states can pose substantial challenges, but our passion for our work does not waiver.”
The Abt-led Food, Agribusiness, and Rural Markets (FARM) Project, funded by USAID, is helping smallholder farmers grow, aggregate, and market staple crops and become self-sufficient. The FARM Project works in the three Greenbelt states of Western, Central, and Eastern Equatoria.
A conflict that broke out in December 2013 did not prevent the project from purchasing and distributing high-quality seeds — which are disease-resistant and also fetch higher yields — of maize, groundnuts and beans. In April and May 2014 the project partnered with local cooperatives in the three states to distribute these seeds to 7,045 farmers – 4,669 men and 3,139 women – from 310 farmer based-organizations.
“Since I have started farming, I have never received support from anyone,” said Joice Christopher, a farmer in Western Equatoria. “I am grateful to the FARM Project for including me in this seed distribution program. I hope to get better yields this season.”
Following seed distribution last year, the FARM Project’s assessment found that maize yields increased up to 300 percent when smallholder farmers planted higher-producing seeds and followed good agronomic practices — also taught by the project.
The South Sudan Health Systems Strengthening project (HSSP), also led by Abt and funded by USAID, builds on the Republic of South Sudan’s commitment to strengthening the health system in two states: Central and Western Equatoria.
For example, HSSP is assisting with the implementation of a Health Information System, which is having a significant impact in Kajo Keji County in Central Equatoria. With the new system, the county’s health facilities have greatly improved their capacity to capture routine health service information data, sharing it for decision making through monthly County Health Department bulletins.
“These monthly bulletins greatly enhance health providers’ understanding of their count, thus enriching their ability to more effectively and efficiently direct scarce health care resources – even during a period of conflict,” said Wasunna Owino, HSSP Chief of Party.
The Partnership for Transforming Health Systems 2 (PATHS2), funded by UKaid from the Department for International Development, has helped strengthen Nigeria’s health system in a number of ways.
For example, PATHS2 brokered agreements for taxis to provide emergency medical transportation and for additional doctors in rural areas – both to support emergency obstetric care.
PATHS2 is focused on improving planning, financing and delivery of sustainable and replicable pro-poor health services for common health problems in five states – Enugu, Jigawa, Lagos, Kaduna, and Kano. These include parts of northern Nigeria, which has suffered from terrorist attacks.
The attacks did not significantly impede project activities, including PATHS2's Safe Motherhood Initiative, thanks in part to PATHS2’s community engagement efforts. One Safe Motherhood effort supported by communities was the Emergency Transport Scheme (ETS), in which more than 1,200 local taxi drivers in Kano, Jigawa, and Kaduna volunteered to provide rapid transportation for pregnant women to their local health facility during health emergencies.
The drivers have been trained to recognize signs of health problems during a pregnancy, lift pregnant women safely, maintain their vehicles, and other lessons. Approximately 6,000 pregnant women have been helped – including many lives saved – since ETS started in 2012.
“This is a very good program. I was afraid I might die, but the ETS saved my life. May Allah bless the ETS drivers,” said Mejita Rabiu, who lives in the community of Gwarzaye in Kano State.
The Strengthening Health Outcomes through the Private Sector (SHOPS) project, led by Abt, helps private providers in Nigeria – doctors, nurses, and midwives – improve their family planning counseling skills and expand the range and quality of family planning services they offer. SHOPS is USAID’s flagship program in private sector health.
“Private health care providers are the source of 60 percent of family planning services in Nigeria,” said Susan Mitchell, SHOPS project director. “They are essential to meeting the unmet need for family planning and improving health outcomes.”
To help increase the method mix available to women in Nigeria, SHOPS has trained 655 private providers in clinical skills for IUDs and implants. It has trained 679 providers in family planning counseling skills.
Additionally, private providers, while often owners of health businesses, are not trained in business administration. SHOPS fills this gap by offering training in business skills such as bookkeeping, contraceptive stock management, and marketing and customer service. Since August 2011, the project has trained more than 2,000 private providers in a range of business skills.
The Health Finance and Governance Project (HFG), led by Abt and funded by USAID, is helping Haiti improve its numerous nurse training institutions and develop the country’s first health financing strategy as the country continues to rebuild after a devastating earthquake in 2010.
Haiti has a long tradition of training high-quality nurses. But little is known about the quality of a nurse training increasingly being provided through private institutions.
HFG is working closely with the Haiti Ministry of Health (MOH) to improve its ability to accredit nursing training institutions – a system known as reconnaissance. The process involves a neutral party evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, and possibilities for improvement within an institution, such as a nursing school.
Haiti has relied on national health budgets of only a single year, which has hampered longer-term planning. HFG is working with the Ministry of Health’s Planning and Evaluation Unit to develop a national health financing strategy that will include an operational plan consisting of specific activities, timelines, and an overall health budget.
Read about HFG’s work in HIVand AIDS in Ukraine.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), malaria is a major health problem in the country, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of outpatient visits by children under five and 40 percent of the overall mortality in children under five, according to the President’s Malaria Initiative.
The country also has suffered because of both internal and external conflicts – sometimes over the country’s wealth of natural resources – and inadequate infrastructure, including schools and public health facilities.
The Abt-led Africa Indoor Residual Spraying (AIRS) project works with the National Institute for Bio-Medical Research to conduct entomological monitoring to understand the effect of long-lasting insecticide-treated nets on malaria transmission.
Entomological monitoring helps the National Malaria Control Program understand which kinds of mosquitoes spread malaria, their resistance to insecticides – among other important information – and to develop an effective response.
“By providing local governments with the skills and tools they need to ensure strong entomological monitoring, AIRS is helping the DRC government to make informed decisions around malaria prevention,” said Dereje Dengela, Entomologist and Technical Director for AIRS.
Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research, evaluation and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges, Abt Associates is regularly ranked as one of the top 20 global research firms and one of the top 40 international development innovators. The company has multiple offices in the U.S. and program offices in more than 40 countries.