Fil-Am named USAID director for RP

By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Jul 28 2010 11:51 AM | Updated as of Jul 28 2010 09:45 PM

New USAID director for RP is a Maryknoll grad

WASHINGTON DC - A Filipina American who made good in the United States, is going back to the Philippines to lead the US Agency for International Development (USAID) efforts to help the country.

News of Gloria Steele’s appointment as USAID mission director for the Philippines have been circulating in the Fil-Am community in Washington DC days before her formal installation last July 20.

Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa was elated by the announcement of her appointment.

“Ms. Steele’s proven track record in development work, especially in the areas of global health, food security and national resource management will help ensure that the US government’s Country Assistance Strategy, whose cross-cutting themes are complimentary to the platform of good governance of President Benigno Aquino III, will be achieved,” he declared.

Before her new assignment, she was Senior Deputy Administrator of USAID’s Global Health Bureau.

Ms. Steele, a graduate of Maryknoll in Quezon City and Kansas State University where she earned her Masters in Agricultural Economics, backed the establishment of a technical group to look into neglected diseases within the US Food & Drug Administration at a Senate appropriations hearing last month.

“This knowledge and experience may be useful to the FDA review group on neglected diseases as it works to identify ways that could help shorten the pathways for bringing medicines for neglected diseases to the market,” she testified.

This could have positive impact on diseases, believed to be long eradicated in the US, that remain virulent threats in the Third World such as malaria and tuberculosis.

Only recently, reports surfaced about the possible resurgence of the mosquito-borne dengue fever in parts of the US.

“Through product development plans, USAID works to ensure that as new products become available and are proven to be effective, they can be quickly introduced in developing countries,” she explained.

At the Senate hearing, she disclosed USAID plans to spend $63 billion in about 80 countries to fight AIDS, TB, malaria and other diseases, especially among women, infants and children.

The Philippines receives millions of dollars every year under various US Global Health Initiative programs.

But Ms. Steele’s new role in the Philippines has added dimensions, taking into account the rather unique objectives of USAID in the country.

While US Special Forces help the Philippine military fight the Abu Sayyaf and other terror groups, USAID money is also the weapon of choice for America’s “smart power” strategy to lift Mindanao from the clutches of Islamic extremism.

The agency spends over 60 cents of every dollar they invest for the Philippines in Mindanao. That amounts to over $350 million since 2001.

The USAID has taught more than 8,000 former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters modern farming techniques, helped build and fund countryside schools, financed roads and small businesses, and brought much-needed health care services to long neglected pockets of Mindanao, Sulu and Basilan.

All these now become Ms. Steele’s responsibility.

This former economics professor now has a unique opportunity to make real impact in the country she once left behind but has now come back home to.