Pacific Health Summit calls it quits

The prestigious, by-invitation-only and, well, kinda stuffy, Pacific Health Summit appears to be making a steep descent.

The Seattle (and sometimes London) confab that has over the years featured some of the top brass in the world of global health appears to be closing down operations. I say appears because the announcement (see email below) isn’t totally clear and makes it sound more like a ‘new phase.’ But that’s often what organizations say when they don’t want to publicly just say it’s quits.

It is the end of Pacific Health Summit as we know it, a grand affair with select attendees launched in 2005 with the mission of linking health, science and industry in the service of global health.

This follows the demise of another high-profile global health gathering, the annual meeting of the Global Health Council, which abruptly closed last April with a vague statement about “the state of global health issues” and “fundamental shifts in the global health landscape.”

Turns out, the real problem was they lost funding from donors. My money is on a similar explanation for the PHS.

Full disclosure: I’ve been a bit of a thorn in the side of the Pacific Health Summit at times, taking them to task for their secrecy and the bizarre prohibition against journalists asking questions of attendants even in the public forums. At one point, Wellcome Trust director Mark Walport even yelled at me in the auditorium to tell me to sit down, that I wasn’t supposed to speak — because I was a journalist.

Putting all that weirdness aside, I still think this is a loss to the community and perhaps a sign of the global health juggernaut losing a bit of momentum. Or maybe it’s just a culling of an expensive to-do that never really clarified its purpose. I was not always clear on what the Pacific Health Summit was supposed to accomplish. It often seemed to me (and others) more about the biomedical industry trying to find a new market niche in the burgeoning field of global health, and not so much about poor people. But maybe that was just me.

Anyway, here’s the official email sent to friends (which, I’m happy to say, included me):


Email from Claire Topal, managing director of the Summit:

Dear Friends of the Pacific Health Summit,

On behalf of the Secretariat of the Pacific Health Summit, I am writing on two counts: to let you know that the 2012 Summit marked our last annual meeting and to celebrate all that we have done together over the past eight years.

When NBR launched the Summit in 2005, in collaboration with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Gates Foundation, there was a clear need for a place where science, industry, and policy leaders could come together to discuss key issues in health in a frank, personal format. When the Wellcome Trust joined us as a Co-Presenting Organization our role as a truly unique forum that provides a special moment in time where leaders could think and act as friends, grew. Eight years after our inaugural meeting, which was never designed to take place in perpetuity, global health is in an exciting new place. Our interactive format has proliferated, and decision-makers across all sectors and geographies are collaborating on all the critical global health issues we sought to address: health technology, pandemic flu, MDR-TB, vaccines, malnutrition, maternal and newborn health, and many more. While we are proud of eight years of transformational conversations, countless new friendships, and exciting partnerships, there is still much work to do – and so much momentum on which to build. This process means a great deal to us, and we are currently exploring how best to build on the Summit’s legacy.

Each year, the Summit served as an unprecedented forum for substantive, high-level discussion that fostered groundbreaking and successful collaborations, and importantly, fostered cross-sector trust and communication. It has been astonishing and gratifying to see that the dialogue we sought to spark IS now happening consistently across global health, and that the new commitments we helped forge are driving meaningful and measurable impact. We at Pacific Health Summit are proud to have served as an important catalyst in this remarkable evolution. To read more about specific partnerships and collaborations that have come out of the Summit, please visit:

We take great pride in the role that the Summit has played in realizing the dream of a healthier future by harnessing the effective utilization of scientific advances, combined with industrial innovation and appropriate policies, in a highly interactive format that honored the critical role and expertise of every sector. The core thread throughout every discussion has been the prevention, early detection, and early treatment of disease. This was the vision laid out in 2004 by our founding thought leaders: Lee Hartwell, then President of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, George F. Russell, Jr., then Chairman of NBR, NBR’s President Rich Ellings, William H. Gates, Sr., Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Michael Birt, NBR’s founding Summit Executive Director.

We find amazing reward in the many outcomes fostered by Summit meetings, which would never have been possible without the active support, participation, and advice each of you gave us. At the beginning and end of every Summit, we reminded participants that while it is the responsibility of each individual in the room to be proactive and transform momentum into tangible action, reaching our common summit of a healthier world cannot be done in isolation. You are a member of a lasting and vibrant Summit community of friends and partners. We have enjoyed eight transformational years and offer profound, heartfelt thanks to each of you. You contributed your time, financial support, expertise, and sincere friendship and passion, which has created the success we enjoy today.

We are grateful for, and truly inspired by, your commitment to making the world a healthier place, and we are looking forward to continued work together.

With enormous appreciation,
Claire Topal, Managing Director, Pacific Health Summit & Vice President, International Health, The National Bureau of Asian Research
with Nualchan Sakchalathorn, Carolyn Roper, Erin Schneider, Joyce Baltazar, Brian Hutchinson, Seema Kapoor, and Jacqueline Koch


About Author

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 tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.