International Development

Please note: the start time for this event has been moved from 3:00 to 3:15pm.

Join FSI Director Michael McFaul in conversation with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. They will address the role of entrepreneurship in creating stable, prosperous societies around the world.

Richard Stengel Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Special Guest United States Department of State
Panel Discussions
Sharon Beckstrand
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Slavery victimizes tens of millions of people worldwide. In 2016, 40 million people were identified as slaves, an estimated 25% percent of them children. Given a broader definition of slavery that includes child labor and child servitude, 152 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 were child laborers as of 2016, and many millions more were involved in some form of slavery-like practice.

Stanford PhD candidate Vincent Jappah, MD, notes in his new article published in the journal Medicine, Conflict and Survival, that the gray area surrounding the acceptance of child servitude in many cultures makes formulating the correct number of victims difficult. Call it servitude or slavery, the practice diminishes the health and social well-being of children and causes harmful ripple effects in their communities as well as to the rest of the world.

Jappah notes that policies to address child servitude and other slavery-like practices are fundamental to global health policy and development. Using a health equity framework can help mitigate the negative impacts of child servitude, in that it requires addressing the diverse factors that impact a person’s ability to meet key health milestones. Irrespective of a person’s race, socio-economic status, financial and physical ability, all global citizens have the right to a healthy life.

The study, “The political economy of child service in Liberia, West Africa,” co-authored by Jappah and Danielle Taana Smith, a professor of African American Studies at Syracuse University, notes that modern slavery is often centered around alleviating one’s own personal poverty and gaining power, even if that means exploiting the children of your own community.

Both Liberian natives, the researchers note that Liberians — like those of other countries including the United States — will often target those from low socioeconomic backgrounds and indigenous peoples.

This often takes place “within groups that in many instances share similar racial identities and physical features,” Jappah said. “Today, the child next door in a neighbor’s home may be deprived of going to school and coerced into performing endless hours of chores, with poor food and living conditions, the inability to leave the house, and the constant fear of violence.”

Jappah notes child servitude can potentially have devastating health consequences, and poses a major health challenge for individuals and their communities. Many victims typically live in unsuitable and unsanitary environments often littered with mosquitos, flies, lice, and other transmitters of disease. These children may also face poor mental health outcomes such as depression, social anxiety and social dysfunction, low self-esteem and failure to meet critical developmental milestones.

These children, as all children do, internalize and, to some extent, normalize their living conditions, and society becomes more acquiescent to such practices, despite their detrimental effects.
Vincent Jappah, MD, MPH
PhD Candidate, Stanford Heath Policy

Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world, having suffered years of civil war and regional conflict. Its human development indicators rank 175 out of 189 countries on the 2019 Human Development Index. The child malnutrition rate is 15% among 5-year-olds and younger and many Liberians lack access to basic needs such as food, water, shelter, education, and health care.

In fact, the authors note, nearly 63% of the people in the West African nation established by freed American slaves live in poverty; 69% of the country’s 5 million people live on less than $3.20 a day.

“A functional economy that ensures that most citizens can earn a living wage does not exist,” the authors wrote. “Extreme poverty in some families, high levels of illiteracy and unemployment, and suboptimal economic activities contribute to child servitude and other forms of child exploitation.”

The children of Liberia are not alone. In societies with inherent instability and ongoing conflict, the practice of child servitude can become accepted as a normal way to make money and centralize power when opportunity and resources are scarce.

Jappah notes that for young children and adolescents, this is the period of forming personality, critical reasoning and developing relationships outside of the home, as well as forming opinions about the world around them. Living in such dehumanizing conditions can result in shame and trauma and often have intergenerational effects. They also have lower levels of education and higher dropout rates, contributing to an ongoing cycle of intergenerational poverty.

“These children, as all children do, internalize and, to some extent, normalize their living conditions, and society becomes more acquiescent to such practices, despite their detrimental effects,” Jappah said.  “These practices are widespread in places where laws are not adequate to address them, or if there are laws, few enforcement mechanisms are in place, or they are not enforced.”

Jappah said Liberians must address their cultural history of exploitation if they want to abolish the practice of child servitude. In addition, addressing the larger issues of inequity and the exclusion of marginalized groups is necessary.

“Throughout human history, we have witnessed clashes among social classes and groups,” Jappah said. “The more inequitable a society is, the more likely it is to be rife with social tensions.”

He concluded that those tensions are evident in developing countries as well as the industrialized nations such as the United States, a Western harbor of child trafficking and slavery. According to the Global Slavery Index, on any given day in 2016 there were 403,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in the United States — or 1.3 victims of slavery for every thousand people in this country.

 “This phenomenon is universal; Liberia is not an exception,” Jappah said.



Vincent Jappah Photo

Vincent Jappah, MD, MPH

PhD Candidate
He focuses on public policy, economics, global child and maternal health.
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A new article co-authored by Health Policy PhD candidate Vincent Jappah reveals that the modern drivers of child servitude in Liberia are largely social vulnerability and cultural acceptance of the practice, rather than traditional factors based on race and ethnicity.

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Assistant Professor, Health Policy

Fernando Alarid-Escudero, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Health Policy at Stanford University School of Medicine. He obtained his Ph.D. in Health Decision Sciences from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and was an Assistant Professor at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) Región Centro, Aguascalientes, Mexico, from 2018 to 2022, prior to coming to Stanford. His research focuses on developing statistical and decision-analytic models to identify optimal prevention, control, and treatment policies to address a wide range of public health problems and develops novel methods to quantify the value of future research. Dr. Alarid-Escudero is part of the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network (CISNET), a consortium of NCI-sponsored investigators that includes modeling to improve our understanding of the impact of cancer control interventions (e.g., prevention, screening, and treatment) on population trends in incidence and mortality. Dr. Alarid-Escudero co-founded the Stanford-CIDE Coronavirus Simulation Modeling (SC-COSMO) workgroup. He also co-founded the Decision Analysis in R for Technologies in Health (DARTH) workgroup and the Collaborative Network on Value of Information (ConVOI), international and multi-institutional collaborative efforts where we develop transparent and open-source solutions to implement decision analysis and quantify the value of potential future investigation for health policy analysis. He received a BSc in Biomedical Engineering from the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Iztapalapa (UAM-I), and a Master’s in Economics from CIDE, both in Mexico.

Beth Duff-Brown
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Taiwan is only 81 miles off the coast of mainland China and was expected to be hard hit by the coronavirus, due to its proximity and the number of flights between the island nation and its massive neighbor to the west.

Yet it has so far managed to prevent the coronavirus from heavily impacting its 23 million citizens, despite hundreds of thousands of them working and residing in China.

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases map, as of Tuesday there were only 42 cases and one death in Taiwan, far behind China, with more than 80,000 cases and more than 2,900 deaths. The country also lags far behind its other Asian neighbors and ranks 17th in the world for the number of global cases. As of this writing, South Korea was second, with 5,186 cases; followed by Iran with 2,336 and Italy with 2,036 people infected with the virus.

The United States currently stands at 107 known cases and six deaths.

The viral outbreak in China occurred just before the Lunar New Year, during which time millions of Chinese and Taiwanese were expected to travel for the holidays.

So what steps did Taiwan take to protect its people? And could those steps be replicated here at home?

Stanford Health Policy’s Jason Wang, MD, PhD, an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine who also has a PhD in policy analysis, credits his native Taiwan with using new technology and a robust pandemic prevention plan put into place at the 2003 SARS outbreak.

“The Taiwan government established the National Health Command Center (NHCC) after SARS and it’s become part of a disaster management center that focuses on large-outbreak responses and acts as the operational command point for direct communications,” said Wang, a pediatrician and the director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes, and Prevention at Stanford. The NHCC also established the Central Epidemic Command Center, which was activated in early January.

“And Taiwan rapidly produced and implemented a list of at least 124 action items in the past five weeks to protect public health,” Wang said. “The policies and actions go beyond border control because they recognized that that wasn’t enough.”

Wang outlines the measures Taiwan took in the last six weeks in an article published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Given the continual spread of COVID-19 around the world, understanding the action items that were implemented quickly in Taiwan, and the effectiveness of these actions in preventing a large-scale epidemic, may be instructive for other countries,” Wang and his co-authors wrote.

Within the last five weeks, Wang said, the Taiwan epidemic command center rapidly implemented those 124 action items, including border control from the air and sea, case identification using new data and technology, quarantine of suspicious cases, educating the public while fighting misinformation, negotiating with other countries — and formulating policies for schools and businesses to follow.

Big Data Analytics

The authors note that Taiwan integrated its national health insurance database with its immigration and customs database to begin the creation of big data for analytics. That allowed them case identification by generating real-time alerts during a clinical visit based on travel history and clinical symptoms.

Taipei also used Quick Response (QR) code scanning and online reporting of travel history and health symptoms to classify travelers’ infectious risks based on flight origin and travel history in the last 14 days. People who had not traveled to high-risk areas were sent a health declaration border pass via SMS for faster immigration clearance; those who had traveled to high-risk areas were quarantined at home and tracked through their mobile phones to ensure that they stayed home during the incubation period.

The country also instituted a toll-free hotline for citizens to report suspicious symptoms in themselves or others. As the disease progressed, the government called on major cities to establish their own hotlines so that the main hotline would not become jammed.

Some might say that because Taiwan is such a small country — about 19 times smaller than Texas — it is easier to mobilize during emergencies. Yet Taiwan is particularly challenged by its proximity to China and the fact that 850,000 of its citizens reside on the mainland; another 400,000 work there. Taiwan had 2.71 million visitors from China last year.

So when the WHO was notified on Dec. 31, 2019, of a pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China, Taiwanese officials began to board planes and assess passengers on direct flights from Wuhan for fever and pneumonia symptoms before passengers could deplane.

As early as Jan. 5, notification was expanded to include any individual who had traveled to Wuhan in the past 14 days and had a fever or symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection at the point of entry. Suspected cases were screened for 26 viruses, including SARS and MERS. Passengers displaying symptoms were quarantined at home and assessed whether medical attention at a hospital was necessary.

What the U.S. Could Learn

One of Wang’s co-authors, Robert H. Brook, M.D., ScD., of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, said Washington could learn a great deal from Taiwan’s so-far successful management of the virus.

“In Taiwan, diverse political parties were willing to work together to produce an immediate response to the danger,” said Brook, also of the nonprofit RAND Corporation. “Transparency was critical and frequent communication to the public from a trusted official was paramount to reducing public panic.”

The other co-author of their study is Chun Y. Ng, MBA, MPH, of The New School for Leadership in Health Care, Koo Foundation Sun Yat-Sen Cancer Center, Taipei, Taiwan.

Brook said Taiwan got out ahead of the epidemic by setting up a physical command center to facilitate rapid communications. The command center set the price of masks and used government funds and military personnel to increase mask production. By Jan. 20, the Taiwan CDC announced that it had a stockpile of 44 million surgical masks, 1.9 million N95 masks and 1,100 negative pressure isolation rooms.

“In a country as complex as the United States,” Brook said, “there needs to be a sharing of intelligence on a real-time basis among states and the federal government so that action is not delayed by going through formal channels.”

Please contact Beth Duff-Brown for media requests. 

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Beth Duff-Brown
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The U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, has prevented 2.2 million children from experiencing malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa, according to new research led by Stanford Health Policy's PhD candidate Tess Ryckman.

The researchers compared children’s health in 33 low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In 12 of those countries, Feed the Future provided services such as agricultural assistance and financial services for farmers, as well as direct nutrition support, such as nutrient supplementation. 

The study, published online Dec. 11 in The BMJ, found a 3.9 percentage point decrease in chronic malnutrition among children served by Feed the Future, leading to 2.2 million fewer children whose development has been harmed by malnourishment.

“What we see with stunting rates is striking,” Ryckman said. “I would argue that 2 million fewer children stunted over seven years is major progress and puts a substantial dent in total stunting levels. And that’s 2 million children who will now have the levels of physical and cognitive development to allow them to reach their full potential.”

Stunting, or having a low height for a particular age, is a key indicator of child malnutrition. Children who aren’t properly nourished in their first 1,000 days are more likely to get sick more often, to perform poorly in school, grow up to be economically disadvantaged and suffer from chronic diseases, according to the World Health Organization.

A Controlled Study

Feed the Future is thought to be the world’s largest agricultural and nutrition program, with around $6 billion in funding from USAID (plus more from other federal agencies) between 2010 and 2015. Despite its size, much remains unknown about the effectiveness of the program.

The researchers analyzed survey data on almost 900,000 children younger than 5 in sub-Saharan Africa from 2000 to 2017. They compared children from the Feed the Future countries with those in countries that are not participants in the program, both before and after the program’s implementation in 2011.

The researchers found the results were even more pronounced — a 4.6 percentage point decline in stunting — when they restricted their sample to populations most likely to have been reached by program. These included children who were younger when the program began, rural areas where Feed the Future operated more intensively, and in countries where the program had greater geographic coverage.

“Our findings are certainly encouraging because it has been difficult for other programs and interventions to demonstrate impact on stunting, and this program has received a lot of funding, so it’s good to see that it’s having an impact,” Ryckman said.

Multifaceted Approach to Nutrition

Experts are divided about the best way to help the world’s 149 million malnourished children: Is assistance that directly targets nutrition, such as breastfeeding promotion or nutrient supplementation, more effective? Or is it also beneficial to tackle the problem at its root by supporting agriculture and confronting household poverty?

The authors, including Stanford Health Policy’s Eran Bendavid, MD, associate professor of medicine, and Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, a senior fellow (by courtesy) at the Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies and a senior fellow senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, said their analysis supports the value of a multifaceted approach to combating malnutrition among children, namely leveraging agriculture and food security interventions.

“Independent evaluations of large health policy programs such as Feed the Future help build the evidence base needed to tackle persistent patterns of undernutrition,” said Bendavid, an epidemiologist. “The widespread prevalence of stunting and chronic undernutrition is among the most common and yet most stubborn cause of underdevelopment in the world, and learning what works in this space is sorely needed.”

The researchers, including Stanford medical students Margot Robinson and Courtney Pederson, speculated that possible drivers of the program’s effectiveness include three features of Feed the Future’s design: its country-tailored approach; its focus on underlying drivers of nutrition, such as empowering female farmers; and its large scale and adequate funding.

The authors hope their independent evaluation of the program might lead to more funding and support for it. At the very least, they said, it should demonstrate to people working on Feed the Future and the broader global nutrition program community that programs focused mostly on agriculture and food security — indirect contributors to malnutrition — can lead to success.

Value Unknown

Feed the Future has been scaled back in recent years — it once served 19 countries and now reaches only 12. The program’s budget also remains somewhat murky.

“While there isn’t much data on the program’s funding under the Trump administration, the program appears to have been scaled back, at least in terms of the countries where it operates,” Ryckman said. “It’s possible that some of these gains could be lost, absent longer-term intervention from Feed the Future.”


The researchers also did not look at whether the program provided high value for the money spent.

“While we find that it has been effective, it hasn’t led to drastic declines in stunting and it is unclear whether it is good value for money,” she said.

Ryckman also noted that USAID’s own evaluation of its program is tenuous because it looked only at before-and-after stunting levels in Feed the Future countries without comparing the results to a control group or adjusting for other sources of bias, which is problematic because stunting is slowly declining in most countries.

“These types of evaluations are misleading,” Ryckman said. “The U.S. government really needs to prioritize having their programs independently evaluated using more robust methods. That was part of our motivation for doing this study.”

Support for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health (grant P20-AG17253), the National Science Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.


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Beth Duff-Brown
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U.S. government aid for treating children and adults with HIV and malaria in developing countries has done more than expand access to lifesaving interventions: It has changed how people around the world view the United States, according to a new study by researchers at the School of Medicine.

Compared with other types of foreign aid, investing in health is uniquely associated with a better opinion of the United States, improving its “soft power” and standing in the world, the study said.  

Favorability ratings of the United States increased in proportion to health aid from 2002 to 2016 and rose sharply after the implementation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in 2003 and the launch of the President’s Malaria Initiative in 2005, the researchers report.

Their findings were published this week in the American Journal of Public Health. The lead author is postdoctoral scholar Aleksandra Jakubowski, PhD, MPH. The senior author is Eran Bendavid, MD, associate professor of medicine and a core faculty member at Stanford Health Policy.

“Using data on aid and opinions of the United States, we found that investments in health offer a unique opportunity to promote the perceptions of the United States abroad, in addition to disease burden relief,” the authors wrote. “Our study provides new evidence to support the notion that health diplomacy is a net win for the United States and recipient countries alike.”

The Trump administration, however, has proposed a 23% cut in foreign aid in its 2020 budget, including large reductions to programs that fight AIDS and malaria overseas.

The Stanford researchers believe their study is the first to add heft to the argument that U.S. health aid boosts the “soft power” that wins the hearts and minds of foreign friends and foes.

“Our study shows that investing in health aid improves our nation’s standing abroad, which could have important downstream diplomatic benefits to the United States,” Jakubowskisaid. “Investments in health aid help the United States accumulate soft power. Allowing the U.S. reputation to falter would be contrary to our own interests.” 

A Policy Debate

Many politicians and economists consider spending U.S. tax dollars on foreign aid as an ineffective, and possibly harmful, enterprise that goes unappreciated and leads to accusations of American meddling in other countries’ national affairs.

The U.S. government, for the past 15 years, has contributed more foreign health aid than any other country, significantly reducing disease burden, increasing life expectancy and improving employment in recipient countries, the authors wrote. Still, this generosity has historically constituted less than 1% of the U.S. gross domestic product.

“Our results suggest that the dollars invested in health aid offer good value for money,” the researchers wrote. “That is, the relatively low investment in health aid (in terms of GDP) has provided the United States with large returns in the form of improved public perceptions, which may advance the U.S. government’s ability to negotiate international policies that are aligned with American priorities and preferences.”

The researchers used 258 Global Attitudes Surveys, based on interviews with more than 260,000 respondents, conducted by the Pew Research Center in 45 low- to middle-income countries between 2002 and 2016.

Their analysis focused on the health sector, which includes several large programs for infectious disease control, but also support for nutrition, child health and reproductive health programs. They compared health aid to other major areas of U.S. investment: governance, infrastructure, humanitarian aid and military aid. They also constructed a database of news stories that mentioned the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or the President’s Malaria Initiative by crawling through the online archives of the top three newspapers by circulation in each of the 45 countries.

They found that the probability of populations holding a very favorable opinion of the United States was 19 percentage points higher in the countries where and years when U.S. donations for health care were highest, compared with countries where and years when health aid donations were lowest. Using another metric, the researchers found that every additional $100 million in health aid was associated with a nearly 6 percentage-point increase in the probability of respondents indicating they had a “very favorable” opinion of the United States. 

In contrast, the researchers found, aid for governance, infrastructure, humanitarian and military purposes was not associated with a better opinion of the United States.

Bendavid, an infectious diseases physician and core faculty member of Stanford Health Policy, said that when he set out to conduct this research, he believed it would result “in a resounding thud” — that the “soft power” of health aid would have no impact on public opinion.

“For me, the notion that this program — hatched and headquartered in D.C. — would have impacts among millions in Nairobi and Dakar, seemed farfetched,” Bendavid said. “I was incredulous until all the pieces were in place.”

The ‘America First’ Agenda

The Trump administration’s “America First” agenda is calling for significant cuts to global health aid, particularly to the highly successful AIDS relief program, which was established by President George W. Bush. The administration’s budget, released in March, proposed a $860 million cut to the program; the President’s Malaria Initiative is facing a $331 million reduction in federal funding. That’s a decline of 18% and 44%, respectively.

The U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria would also decline by 17%, or $225 million, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Yet beyond the reputational damage to the United States, such cuts could be a major setback to improving health outcomes in developing countries, the researchers said. After all, HIV knows no borders, and having more resilient health care systems is instrumental when facing public health crises, such as the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jakubowski said.

“The most direct impact of cutting the United States’ health aid allocations is the potential to undermine or reverse the progress that has been enabled by U.S. aid in curbing mortality and the spread of disease,” Bendavid said. “However, this study suggests there are also repercussions to the United States: the relationships the U.S. has built with recipient nations could also be undermined.”            

Other Stanford co-authors are Steven Asch, MD, MPH, professor of medicine, and former graduate student Don Mai.

Stanford’s Department of Medicine supported the work.

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Associate Research Scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management, and Yale’s Global Health Leadership Initiative
Sc.D., M.S.
Lingrui Liu is an Associate Research Scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management, and Yale’s Global Health Leadership Initiative. Prior to joining the Yale School of Public Health faculty in fall of 2018, she obtained an ScD (Doctor of Science) from Harvard University in healthcare system management and organizational studies (2018), as well as an M.S. from the University of Pennsylvania (2012). Her research in the field of healthcare management and policy is informed by interdisciplinary training in culture and linguistics studies, political economy, health policy, organizational behavior, and general management. Her research interests include health system performance and evaluation, quality improvement, patient safety, organizational design and culture, service-line management, and implementation of evidence-based practices. She explores research inquiries with a cadre of tools, encompassing both quantitative and qualitative methods: statistical and econometric analyses, mathematical decision science models, qualitative comparative analysis (QCA), participant observations, interviews, and surveys. Her past experience includes work as a consultant at the World Bank (2017-2018) and a policy researcher at the Children’s Defense Fund (2012-2013, Washington, DC).
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Stanford Health Policy's Paul Wise held a conversation with Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group about improving the health of the poorest communities around the world. The two old friends talked about their work and the keys to accomplishing big goals during the Conversation in Global Health event. Wise is a core faculty member at Stanford Health Policy and the Center for Innovation in Global Health, as well as a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have indefinitely postponed the April 22 Symposium.

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Shira Mitchell and colleagues' endline evaluation of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) in The Lancet Global Health marks an important chapter in our understanding of Africa’s meandering path towards health and economic development. Originally conceived to show the power of an integrated multisector approach to ending poverty and its associated ills, the project had its share of heated debates. The centrally planned approach that included provision of a streamlined basket of goods to each village was said to promote solutions derived from aloof economic models insensitive to local customs and constraints.


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The Lancet: Global Health
Eran Bendavid
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