Tom Paulson

Editor

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom-at-humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.

Author Archives: Tom Paulson

Gates Foundation seeks to merge science and delivery of global health | 

Bill Gates fields a question at a Seattle meeting focused on developing new products to fight disease. He and Melinda Gates spoke to more than 500 participants at the Global Health Product Development forum, moderated by Betsy McKay of the Wall Street Journal.
Bill Gates fields a question at a Seattle meeting focused on developing new products to fight disease. He and Melinda Gates spoke to more than 500 participants at the Global Health Product Development forum, moderated by Betsy McKay of the Wall Street Journal.

Everyone knows that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation likes technology, inventing new things and helping others find innovative ways to fight diseases of poverty and other scourges that afflict those living in the poorest parts of the world.

The world’s biggest philanthropy has reorganized to devote its global health program, run by former Novartis executive Trevor Mundel, almost entirely to supporting research aimed at finding new drugs or vaccines. The incoming CEO, Susan Desmond-Hellman, is a biotech leader and was head of product development at Genentech.

So it’s no wonder that some complain the Gates Foundation often sounds sometimes like just another drug company, is too focused on the ‘techno-fix,’ the silver bullet or some other kind of magical (Bill likes that word, ‘magical’) targeted intervention.

But that perspective may be missing a more fundamental transformation – the new, intentionally holistic Gates Foundation.

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Challenging the claim that saving kids lives reduces population growth | 

A leading aid and development expert is challenging a popular claim made by Bill and Melinda Gates, health statistics wizard Hans Rosling and others in the humanitarian community often cited to counter the concern that saving kids lives in poor countries will exacerbate global population growth.

It is sometimes described as the ‘virtuous cycle’ because it shows how preventing child deaths actually reduces birth rates! Here’s Rosling making the case in his always entertaining style:

The gist here is that as you reduce childhood mortality rates in poor communities, families have less kids. Birth rates go down and, over time, the economic well-being of these communities rises along with other health indicators. Put another way, when poor families see fewer of their kids dying young, they stop having 10 kids if they only need five to work the farm and provide for the family.

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Gates Foundation won’t take a stand on universal health coverage | 

A funny thing happened at the World Bank the other day.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim  gestures while speaking at the forum Endpoverty 2030 during the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington,  Thursday, April 10, 2014.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim gestures while speaking at the forum Endpoverty 2030 during the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington, Thursday, April 10, 2014.
AP

The international financial institution devoted to fighting poverty and advancing economic growth in the poorest parts of the world held an event last week, Toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030.

That wasn’t the funny part. What was funny (or, well, funny-strange maybe) was watching the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation work so hard to avoid taking a position on this goal of ensuring all people have access to affordable, basic health care.

As Humanosphere has noted, there’s a lot of enthusiasm around the world today for universal health coverage. Even many of the hard-pressed health and finance ministries of poor and middle-income countries are enthusiastic, largely because a number of analyses and expert studies have shown that getting everyone reliable access to basic health services contributes to long-term economic development, social stability and poverty reduction.

“There’s a consensus out there that universal health coverage is a critical development goal,” said Robert Marten, a global health policy expert for the Rockefeller Foundation. Continue reading

Catholic liturgical musician arrested as terrorist in Rwanda | 

Much of the world took note last week of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, with most of the news reports focusing on Rwanda’s stunning improvements made over the past few years – and on how the West failed to stop the slaughter of perhaps a million Rwandans.

What Humanosphere took note of is the rising awareness of the need for a more accurate narrative of modern day Rwanda – as a place making great gains on health and welfare, but at the expense of political and democratic freedoms. Some allege the government of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame even engages in assassinations of political opponents.

Now, Kizito Mihigo, a musician who specializes in Catholic liturgical music has been arrested and charged with terrorism. Some say the arrest is for writing a song that contends some of the atrocities of the 1994 genocide were commited by Kagame’s forces as well (a contention supported by many independent studies and reports). As Rwanda’s New Times reports, Mihigo, a radio journalist and another man have been arrested and charged with subversive activities.

Here’s a video of Kizito performing one of his liturgical songs:

Mihigo and others are accused by the Rwandan police of carrying out grenade attacks and planning terrorist acts. Others, on social media today, suggest Mihigo’s arrest was prompted by the lyrics in his songs – and his faith-based compulsion to work for peace and stability in Rwanda by encouraging all sides to acknowledge wrong-doing.

“I sing peace and forgiveness, I launch a permanent call for reconciliation,” Mihigo says.

Humanitarian community weirdly silent on USAID “Cuba Twitter” fiasco | 

Students in Cuba gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Students in Cuba gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

If lack of public outrage is any indication, many in the humanitarian field appear to be just fine with the recent revelation that the U.S. government’s lead anti-poverty agency has been spending tax dollars to operate a secret project aimed at fomenting political unrest in Cuba.

You may remember when news leaked out in 2011 that the CIA had faked a vaccination program in Pakistan in its effort to find Osama Bin Laden.

It took a while for the humanitarian community to respond, and condemn, that scheme. But most did and the dire predictions that the CIA ruse would endanger aid workers (and undermine the crucial polio campaign in Pakistan) turned out to be tragically accurate. As Laurie Garrett recently wrote in Foreign Policy, the CIA scheme gave militant extremists all the justification they needed for targeting polio vaccine workers and the murders go on today – and polio continues to spread.

Now, thanks to an AP investigation, we learn that USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development) has since 2009 been running a secret social media scheme in Cuba aimed at using cell-phone text messages to foster political dissent against the communist government. The AP reported that the project, dubbed “Cuban Twitter” involved creating secret shell companies and foreign bank accounts.

Bill and Paula Clapp
Bill and Paula Clapp
Seattle International Foundation

“So we’re back to the days of USAID acting like the CIA?” said an exasperated Bill Clapp, a Seattle-based philanthropist who with his wife Paula has been working for decades on a variety of anti-poverty and empowerment projects throughout Latin America. “If our goal is to promote open societies around the world, I’m not sure having our lead aid agency running covert foreign policy operations is the way to do it.” Continue reading

Study shows global health funding steady, not always focused on biggest burdens | 

It’s fair to say that global health has been at the spearpoint of the aid and development agenda for the last 15 years or so, as funding for initiatives aimed at curbing AIDS, malaria, TB and other select diseases of poverty has swelled over the past decade and a half.

But funding has leveled off over the past few years, due to the global economic crisis and perhaps also to a re-thinking of the international anti-poverty agenda. A new report on Financing Global Health from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation documents this transition (subtitle: Transition in an Age of Austerity) and includes some great visual illustrations of what’s going on.

Global Health Financing IHME
IHME

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Time for a new narrative on Rwanda | 

Analysis

Woman and child tilling the field
Woman and child tilling the field
Tom Paulson

For some, Rwanda is beautiful, a story of amazing recovery and rebuilding. For others, Rwanda is creepy, a story of ongoing Western-sanctioned political repression and murder.

In other words, Rwanda is complex. Incredibly complex, with some deep wounds that have not yet healed. And it’s perhaps time the humanitarian community moves beyond the simplistic depictions of the country, if only to make sure that what progress has been made can continue.

In 2011, I joined a dozen or so journalists with the International Report Project filing into a government building in Kigali, Rwanda. We were there to report on what many in the aid and development community were calling ‘Africa’s success story’ and given brief instructions on how we were to interview President Paul Kagame. One question per person and no video.

So, of course, I surreptitiously set up my SLR camera to take video. Kagame soon joined us and greeted each of us warmly, speaking softly like a genteel professor. Continue reading

Ugandan prof cites western roots of Africa’s anti-gay movement | 

Stella Nyanzi
Stella Nyanzi

Stella Nyanzi is an anthropologist who studies gender and sexuality issues in Uganda, at Makerere University in Kampala.

Talk about being at the eye of the storm.

Uganda has become ground zero for what some characterize as an explosion of homophobia and increased criminalization of homosexuality in Africa. Hostility toward gays is hardly new or confined to Africa, of course, as Humanosphere has noted. Nearly 80 countries worldwide consider homosexuality a crime, with some making it a death penalty crime.

“In Africa, I think it’s worth noting that the countries with the most severe laws are former British colonies,’ said Nyanzi, who will be the keynote speaker at a Seattle conference focused on sexuality, health and human rights. “You don’t see this so much in the former colonies of other countries.”

The conference, hosted and run by students at the University of Washington, is the 11th annual Western Regional International Health Conference, which opens with Nyanzi speaking on Friday and runs through the weekend.

The meeting will also screen a powerful documentary, Call Me Kuchu, that describes the plight of gays in Uganda – and the murder of a gay activist.

“This is happening in many places but I’m not sure everyone recognizes why, and how,” said Nyanzi. Continue reading