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United States economic assistance to Zambia predates the country's independence. In the mid-1950s, a number of Zambians received scholarships to study in the United States. In the 1960s, an expanded USAID-financed program provided training and food aid.

At independence in 1964, Zambia was the second richest nation in Africa south of the Sahara. However, by the late 1970s, the strong post-independence economy had stalled. Copper prices had collapsed and copper ore exports declined. In 1977, the United States responded to these problems by formally creating the USAID mission in Zambia.

Two decades after independence, Zambia went from being one of the richest countries in sub-Saharan Africa to one of the poorest. By the late 1980s, the economy had effectively collapsed and important social indicators, such as infant mortality, were increasing. This period coincided with the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which strained the already beleaguered public health system to the breaking point. Hindered by destructive policies similar to those weakening the economy, the health and education systems collapsed. There were acute shortages of essential medical supplies, facilities fell into disrepair and many Zambian health professionals began moving abroad in search of livable wages. Large numbers of HIV/AIDS orphans became another major social problem.

For many years, political constraints frustrated economic assistance and development efforts in Zambia. However, in 1991, Zambia saw its ruling party swept from power. A new government came in with a platform based on liberalizing the economic and political systems. Since this change, there have been dramatic improvements in the structure and performance of the economy. Zambia is now more open in many respects and the economic situation is more promising, but much more remains to be done.

USAID's principal goal in Zambia is to help the country realize the immense economic potential it possesses. USAID supports programs that work towards growth with equity.

Last updated: October 22, 2014

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