Tom Paulson


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, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.

Author Archives: Tom Paulson

Global health advocates celebrate polio milestone despite disease resurgence | 

Pakistani policemen stand guard as a health worker gives a child a polio vaccine in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, March 9, 2014.
Pakistani policemen stand guard as a health worker administers a polio vaccine in Karachi, Pakistan, March, 2014.

This week, the World Health Organization certified that India and Southeast Asia was ‘polio free.’

Significant progress has been made against this crippling disease, with 80 percent of the planet now free from polio thanks to an aggressive global vaccination campaign largely led for decades by WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and more recently supported – both financially and from the bully pulpit – by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

There is indeed cause for celebration, but also alarm.

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World Vision flip-flops on gay marriage | 

world-visionWorld Vision USA, the large Christian aid organization headquartered just outside of Seattle, earlier this week announced it had changed its policy and would begin hiring Christians in same-sex marriage.

World Vision USA President Rich Stearns had championed the move saying it was “Symbolic of how we can come together even though we disagree.”

But in less than two days, World Vision USA reversed itself saying it had made a ‘mistake’ – the mistake, apparently, being that it had not anticipated the massive criticism it would get from many in the religious community who oppose gay marriage.

“This a depressing step backwards from what had seemed a very progressive move forward by World Vision,” said Ed Carr, an aid and development expert at the University of South Carolina. “After only a day or so, they’re back on the wrong side of history.”

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If only TB was as sexy as Ebola | 

All geared up for dealing with Ebola
All geared up for dealing with Ebola
Boston University

The world was briefly alarmed, or, well, the media has tried to sound the alarm, when it was reported that the usually deadly Ebola virus had spread from its confines in tropical sub-Saharan Africa to Canada when a man who had been in Liberia returned very ill to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Holy Hot Zone Batman!

Wait, never mind. Canadian health officials have since said that the man who fell ill with the symptoms of severe hemorrhagic fever – massive internal bleeding caused by the infection basically melting down your insides – doesn’t appear to have Ebola. I doubt the man, who remains surrounded by health workers in masks and protective clothing given he still has one of the other kinds of horrible hemorrhagic viruses, will be much relieved.

Nor will many of those living in Guinea or anywhere else near the latest outbreak of this made-for-Hollywood infectious bug be relieved. Nearly 60 people have been reported killed from the infection in this West African outbreak, out of about 80 diagnosed. Continue reading

Back to the fuzzy future in global health | 


Globe kid
Flickr, woodleywonderworks

The global health community seems at a loss these days, as indicated by two conferences yesterday I web-participated in devoted to coming up with a future game plan for the field. I’ll get to those, but first some context:

I am long-in-tooth enough to remember when ‘global health’ didn’t exist, not by name anyway, before Bill Gates got into philanthropy and when the only ‘Third World’ disease most of us in the West cared about was AIDS.  And we cared only because that disease figured out how to spread beyond its original confines in Africa. Today, it can seem like everybody and their mother wants a piece of the global health bandwagon.

Or they did anyway, when funding for fighting diseases of poverty in poor communities (my definition of global health, which is debatable) was increasing at the rate of Starbucks franchises.

Global health’s golden age began somewhere around the year 2000 and was due in part to the meteoric rise of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I think it’s fair to say the Seattle philanthropy revolutionized and resurrected many neglected areas of international health by greatly expanding efforts in children’s immunizations worldwide as well as reinvigorating many moribund fields like malaria and tuberculosis research.

But it wasn’t just because of the Gates Foundation that global health took off. The now almost unimaginable toll taken by AIDS in Africa and other parts of the developing world had become intolerable, at least for many AIDS activists, human rights groups and public health experts. Continue reading

A chat with Bill Gates’ least favorite aid expert, Bill Easterly | 

Bill Easterly
Bill Easterly

William Easterly is a leading voice on the aid and development scene that folks seem to either love or hate. Bill Gates is in the latter camp, as this Gates Foundation blog post would indicate.

On Tuesday, March 25, starting at 7:30 pm in Seattle Town Hall, Easterly will be speaking about what he thinks needs to change in the way we approach the fight against global poverty. His talk is entitled Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, which may sound a little predictable and boring. It won’t be.

Easterly is always entertainingly provocative and his thesis – which, put simply, is that many if not most aid projects actually cause more harm than good – is an aggressive stab at the heart of much of the aid and development establishment. Continue reading

Seattle humanitarian triple threat ChangeUp – Come join the local-global beerfest Thursday | 

Our monthly Seattle ChangeUp gatherings are catching on. It started as just a Humanosphere beer fest, then became a Global Washington thing and now it’s grown to include the Washington Global Health Alliance! This looks like the start of a movement. The humanitarians are revolting!

So come join us this Thursday evening, starting at 6 pm, at Seattle’s Assembly Hall restaurant located at 2121 6th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121.

We don’t have an agenda. We just believe in making the world a better place. Come meet others working on matters of global health, international aid and development. And since the humanitarians may be revolting, tipping a few pints can only make them look better. See you there!

Global health advocates deal with losing clout | 

Somali mothers and their babies wait for vaccines at a health center in Mogadishu, Somalia. One million children still die at birth every year due to lack of care.
Somali mothers and their babies wait for vaccines at a health center in Mogadishu, Somalia. One million children still die at birth every year due to lack of care.

For the first time in nearly 15 years, the US government is poised to reduce its investment in global health.

The Obama Administration, which has long had a fairly spotty, confused and yet self-congratulory approach to fighting diseases of poverty, has submitted a budget request that has disturbed many in the global health community who, for more than a decade, saw themselves as at the top of the aid and development hierarchy.

Here’s a good breakdown of Obama’s $50 billion foreign assistance request from the Center for Global Development’s Casey Dunning. Global health would still get a big chunk, $8.1 billion, but that represents a nearly 5 percent cut from last year. And, as Humanosphere reported yesterday, some say we’re still not spending nearly enough if the goal here is to drive health improvements as a means to reducing global poverty.

Christine Sow
Christine Sow

“The request is much lower than anyone expected,” said Christine Sow, the new director of the new-and-improved Global Health Council (GHC), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that itself caused some confusion and consternation when it suddenly announced it was shutting down in mid-2012.

Sow was in Seattle this week to meet with others, like those at the Washington Global Health Alliance, to revive and re-orient the case for keeping global health at the top of the development agenda. Continue reading

The cure for global poverty: Health | 

Mother and child, Madhya Pradesh, India
Mother and child, Madhya Pradesh, India
Flickr, DFID

Researchers Discover Powerful Cure for Poverty and Inequality – Health

If you could only do one thing to reduce poverty and inequity around the world, say experts in global development, the best thing you could do is reduce the disproportionate burden of disease on those living in the poorest communities.

Improving health, according to a relatively new and perhaps still under-appreciated report written by a blue-ribbon panel, remains the most powerful tool for improving lives and reducing extreme poverty worldwide.

But it’s still a woefully underused tool that, as Humanosphere will report on tomorrow, is actually losing ground on the anti-poverty agenda even as the evidence of its import swells.

Dean Jamison
Dean Jamison

“We have an unprecedented opportunity, unlike any time before in human history, to significantly reduce the level of inequity in the world,” said Dean Jamison, a health policy expert at the University of Washington and, with Harvard University’s Lawrence Summers, one of the lead authors of the report, dubbed Global Health 2035.

“Even in the United States, the single largest cause of poverty is medical expenditures, usually due to some health crisis,” Jamison said. “Europeans have a hard time understanding this, because for the most part they don’t experience medical bankruptcies. But the connection between illness and poverty is also especially the case for the poor in developing and middle-income countries.”

Not everyone agrees, of course, that improving health should be at the top of the anti-poverty agenda.

Some say improving governance, human rights or business development are more powerful means for fighting poverty. Some say we need less targeted efforts and an agenda that emphasizes sustainable development (whatever that means….). The aid and development community, it should be noted, argues about almost everything. Continue reading