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January 18, 2024

USAID launches “Toward a Lead-Free Future” at Davos and challenges other funders to invest

In a policy briefing at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, took a leadership position in a panel discussion exploring the question – What can be done to unlock the biggest opportunities to drive significant reductions in lead poisoning at scale?

The panel – moderated by McKinsey Senior Partner, Lucy Perez, included the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, and the Tanzanian Minister of State for Labour, Economic Affairs and Investment, Mudrick Soragha – marks a turning point in the fight to solve the global childhood lead poisoning crisis. 

This is the first time a major bilateral development agency has recognized the scale of the damage caused by lead (half of all children in lower-income countries are lead poisoned) acknowledged the lack of investment (a mere $15 million toward a $1 trillion annual loss), funded a new initiative, and issued a call to action to other funders to follow suit.

Administrator Power’s personal statement on the importance of this issue is especially poignant,

“I have spent my career – first as a journalist, and as a human rights activist, and as a government official, and as a diplomat – looking for ways to promote and protect human rights, and to try, especially while at USAID, to improve and even if we can save lives around the world. I can say right here, that never in my career have I seen an opportunity like the one we are about to discuss – to deliver such a powerful blow to such an invisible killer for such a relatively small amount of funding. And I’m speaking, of course, we are speaking about lead poisoning. The world can make a really substantial dent in lead exposure for less than it costs to make the last movie you saw.”

The “proven playbook”

Pure Earth has been the leading organization developing and testing a series of interventions through our Global Lead Program. In her comments, Administrator Power referred to the “proven playbook” for solutions, which closely aligns with our 5 step process.  In the realm of policy reform, regulatory enforcement and private sector collaboration, the influence and involvement of USAID will infuse these efforts with a new energy and can result in significant progress.

Pure Earth agrees with the agency’s approach of initially focusing on efforts to remove lead from consumer items like spices, paints and cosmetics for quick, low-cost wins.  Our extensive research covering 25 countries testing over 5,000 consumer items for lead has yielded valuable insights, identified data gaps and highlighted areas for future investigation.

In her remarks, Administrator Power issued a call to action to the international funding community  to join this effort.   She concluded with the following,

Today though, the reason we are here and doing this at the World Economic Forum, is to make an appeal to donors of all kinds – governmental donors, other international funders, diaspora donors, high net worth individuals – to join us. 

Join us in building up testing capacity, join us in helping countries identify the source of the problem, best apply their resources to take it on or reinforce those resources where we need to, and see that those efforts are making a measurable difference – finding ways to see the impact of specific interventions.

So many of the challenges we face, that are being discussed in other rooms, that are being discussed all around the world, that are searing our consciences as we are here today are entrenched, they are complicated, they are hard to solve. Lead is different.

For a small price we can spare parents from living the nightmare of seeing their kids poisoned in the places where they’re supposed to be safe. We can help prevent cardiac deaths in men and women who are too young to die. And we can help kids under five safely learn and grow to their fullest potential – if we simply choose to.

You can watch the complete panel discussion here. 

As Pure Earth begins its 25th year fighting pollution, with a long-time focus on solving lead pollution and poisoning, the beginning of this initiative is a game-changer.  We commend Administrator Power’s call to action.

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