PSBJ: Global health growing as local business

As noted here, and almost everywhere around Seattle these days, global health is regarded as an “emerging industry” and potential economic boon for the region.

Putting aside that global health (and development) is supposed to be primarily about helping poor people in poor countries, it can also be regarded as an industry of increasing importance locally. As such, Seattle’s growing global health sector was the focus of  the 39th annual Enterprise Seattle economic forecast conference on Thursday.

Clay Holtzman, at the Puget Sound Business Journal, covered the meeting and posted this report Investments Show Global Health’s Value. Clay writes:

So what is the local economic value of global health? Defining the exact value to Seattle isn’t easy, because a significant portion of the sector’s buying and hiring is overseas. One easy place to start is with the investments being made in global health, and that discussion begins with the Seattle-based Gates Foundation.

Martha Choe, chief administrative officer at the Seattle mega-philanthropy, was the keynote speaker at the half-day conference.

Martha Choe

Choe noted that the Gates Foundation has donated or committed some $2 billion so far to more than 40 local organizations working on global health issues such as PATH and the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (which keeps trying to get us to call it by its new brand Seattle Biomed).

Choe, who grew up in Seattle and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1972 (when the local economy was in the dumps), said the Gates Foundation takes a very targeted approach to global health:

We look for large-scale problems; problems that afflict millions of people; problems that have been ignored, forgotten or seem intractable; we work in areas where the foundation’s efforts and resources can be leveraged with partners and governments to make the most difference.

Read Clay’s entire report for a more complete description of Seattle as a global health industrial hub.

In other news along this line:

  • The Infectious Disease Research Institute today announced that it has received a “multi-million dollar” grant from the Gates Foundation to explore new strategies for treatment of tuberculosis. (Oddly, they announce this grant but then don’t reveal the actual total amount received in their release).
  • Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman reports that the Washington Global Health Alliance handed out two $150,000 grants to firms — one based in Richland and the other in Israel — working on global health technologies. The alliance administers these grants, which come from a fund created by the state Legislature to support regional initiatives for advancing global health (the Israeli company plans to open a Seattle branch)

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.

  • Carrie Pettler

    Thanks Tom, I appreciate that you are reminding us that helping underdeveloped countries is also benefitting to our own lives. This may also relate to your other post on ” The Giving Pledge”, if donors are able to feel that their contributions globally will also help their more immediate network. However, I am concerned that because the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is in Seattle, that only local Seattle organizations are benefitting from the large contributions of the Gates Foundation. I would love to hear how global donations affect “local” businesses in terms of other local businesses in the United States, not just in Seattle. There are so many 501(c)(3)s in this country trying to make a difference, it would be great if we could learn about how huge donor organizations like the Gates Foundation are able to help them as well – then maybe other donors in other parts of the country can make “The Giving Pledge”. Thanks for your lecture at UW yesterday – i really enjoyed it! Carrie Pettler :)

    • Tom Paulson

      Thanks Carrie,

      I enjoyed speaking to the class at the UW and would be happy to do it again. I don’t have the numbers at my fingertips but I am confident in saying that, by far, most of the funding from the Gates Foundation goes to projects and organizations outside the U.S. As Martha Choe said, some $2 billion has gone to local organizations over the past decade. Since that has been about how much the Gates Foundation gives out every year for global health projects, it’s clear most of the funds are not spent locally. I also bet that most of U.S. grants are made to organizations outside Seattle. The organizations here that do get funded, such as PATH, the UW, Seattle Biomed and others, are clearly deserving of it and working on some great stuff. It’s great that global health and development is gaining recognition as a contributor to the local economy. But we do need to stay focused on its primary purpose — which is not supposed to be about us.

  • Crystal J.

    I agree the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (GF from here on) do, for the most part, what are or perceived as wonderful things. All of the vaccinations, technology, disease prevention work, etc. help save many lives. I think this is a great thing compared to what other money moguls like some of the oil companies, banks, drug companies, retailers, and electronic companies that compose the fortune 500 list. I want to place this tidbit here to remind myself and others that I am not bashing what GF does, or does not do, but namely what I think the money of the profiteers of the Industrial Revolution should go to. After all, it is the Industrial Revolution that created the gap between rich and poor, healthy and unhealthy.
    The industrial revolution, circa mid 18th century, was preceded by the Age of Enlightenment which started arguably about a century before in the mid to late 17th century. So despite the hours of debate, reams of reports, MB of web posts and so on, mass education came right before mass industrialization which turned into all the great things that increased people, money, and health.

    So I ask; why are we mainly focusing dollars on the latter part of that skimpy equation culminating in availability of the tools we as humans use to provide sanitation and good food which in turn provide much health?

    I realize that educating the world, especially since education starts with children, that many people would not benefit…for awhile, but the future would be less bleak for the folks in sub Saharan Africa if they had thriving communities who knew how to build machines to dig wells, or filter water; weave mosquito nets and make an electrolyte solution for hydration; preventing hemorrhage in new mothers, and infections in babies. The WHO set the goal in the 2010 Millennium Development Goals to get all children primary education, but even they have already admitted the prospects for that goal are dim.

    Perhaps GF could focus more on education for prevention rather than cures, possibly via something like microfinance. The other Fortune 500 companies could take a lesson from GF, even if nothing within GF changes.

    • Tom Paulson

      Hi Crystal,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that expanding educational opportunities is critical for making progress, including improvements in health and well-being, in the developing world. The Gates Foundation has invested a lot in trying to improve U.S. education and some of its international work involves educational projects — in many cases health education aimed at prevention. As for broader educational improvements, they have their work cut out for them in this country and likely (obviously, I don’t speak for them) believe it is best for the governments in other countries to implement education reform.

    • Tom Paulson

      Thanks Crystal,
      These are great points and a huge focal point for debate in development. The issue — which often gets boiled down to wonky formulations like “systems approach” versus “targeted” or “horizontal vs. vertical” — is central to the current debate over how best to improve the lives of poor people. The MDGs are sort of combo strategy, as I see it, collecting a set of 8 top anti-poverty goals under one umbrella campaign.
      Obviously, the ideal answer is we need to do all these things. But we can’t, so what do we do first and where do we put most of our resources?
      Tough questions to answer, but you raise the right ones.