UC San Diego Granted $38 Million for Global Health Equity Project

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded UC San Diego $38 million to fund ‘Agency for All,’ a global health equity project led by the Center on Gender Equity and Health. UCSD’s research will be conducted in partnership with local organizations in West Africa, East Africa, and South Asia with the goal of learning to better support lower income communities’ ability to act and generate change in regards to their health and well-being.

The $38 million USAID grant is the largest award that has been given to UCSD by the federal program. The funding from this award, along with the assistance of numerous global organizations, allows UCSD to address areas of health such as maternal care, STDs, family planning, reproductive health, child care, and infectious diseases in lower and middle income countries. 

Within the course of the project, Agency for All seeks to develop a deeper understanding of how agency, meaning the ability to freely act or incite change, intersects with social and behavior programs to influence health. In addition to the research conducted throughout East Africa, West Africa, and South Asia, each region will also host a Hub that will serve to connect regional leaders in implementing locally-led learning agendas. 

Rather than focus on a quantified health target, Agency For All seeks to shift their efforts towards developing self-efficacy, active participation, and empowering environments with the goal of working towards a more sustainable future for the health and well-being of regions with which they work.

Members of the Agency for All team provided a document to The UCSD Guardian that responded to their inquiries about their long-term goals and intentions for this international project.

“We aim to shift longstanding power differentials in global health research and programming by ensuring that local partners and populations drive their own health promotion activities and research agendas through active leadership and comprehensive engagement,” the statement read.

By definition, agency is the capacity to act or exert power. When asked about the meaning of “agency” in the context of this project, the Agency for All team explained that agency can manifest in different ways across the world. The project will not seek to define agency for the partnered communities, but will instead assist the local people by their own definition.

“We intend to ask them directly, and use their responses to create and validate ways of measuring agency,” the team added. “Our overall aim is to generate evidence and knowledge utilization strategies to improve our understanding of the ways that agency influences social and behavior change programs, and ultimately health and well-being.”

As the lead organization for this project, the Center on Gender Equity and Health at UCSD is responsible for joining global partners together to collaborate on Agency for All. Dr. Rebecka Lundgren (UCSD School of Medicine) will serve as Project Director with support from Deputy and Technical Director for Research Dr. Holly Shakya (Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health) and Technical Director for Measurement Dr. Lotus McDougal (UCSD School of Medicine). 

“We are fortunate to be working with an extraordinary group of experienced partners,” said the Agency for All team. The partnered organizations include the Centre for Catalyzing Change (India), CORE Group, Evidence for Sustainable Human Development Systems in Africa (Cameroon), International Planned Parenthood Federation, Makerere University (Uganda), Matchboxology (South Africa), Promundo-US, Sambodhi (India), Save the Children, Shujaaz Inc (Kenya), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), and Viamo.

In a press release for the Center on Gender Equity and Health, UC San Diego Chancellor Khosla described this award to be “a spectacular moment” that will allow UCSD to “lead in using research to address important important social and health issues that result in beneficial change and new policies that make the world a better place.”

The UCSD Center on Gender Equity and Health will be globally engaged in this research project over the course of the next five years.

Art by Angela Liang for The UCSD Guardian