Michael Birt


Seattle’s week of private meetings on global health | 

This week, several “invitation-only” meetings will be held in Seattle featuring hundreds of leading experts in global health from around the world.

They all revolve around the Pacific Health Summit, which starts Wednesday.

One of those confabs orbiting the summit is the Global Health Research Congress, which starts today.

Launched in Seattle last year with backing from the Gates Foundation, the Congress’ stated aim is to help scientists inform and complement policy discussions at the Pacific Health Summit — which also gets Gates money and is difficult to summarize as its intended purpose has “evolved” over time. More on that below.

Both meetings this year are focused on vaccines — exploring how best to discover, develop and distribute.

These goals clearly represent a public good.

Yet their discussions and decision-making are private.

Journalists, like me, are allowed in to the meeting and all the formal discussions. But even for the sessions we are allowed to sit in on, we have to get permission from any attendee before making public what they say.

It’s annoying and cumbersome. I complain about it almost every year and then usually go anyway. I’m not the only one. Here’s a 2009 article by Sandi Doughton on the exclusivity of the new “Davos of global health.”

And last week, I ran into at least one world-renowned expert in global health who said he is refusing to attend the Pacific Health Summit due to this restraint on free and open discussion. Continue reading