The Queen of England has bestowed an exalted honor on PATH’s top gizmo guy.
“She said global health was a rather big subject and must involve a lot of travel,” said Michael Free, chief of technology for PATH, who had in fact stopped off in London to be received by the Queen before embarking on a month-long trip of global health travel.
Last week, Free was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his team’s many inventions and innovative approaches aimed at helping solve health problems in the developing world. It’s not quite as prestigious as a Knighthood but better than a sharp poke in the helmet.
One of Free’s inventions was the single-use, auto-disabling syringe — a device now in common use worldwide, here in the U.S. as well, aimed at reducing the transmission of disease through accidental needle sticks.
But Free was also likely honored for his much broader and critical role in helping give birth to PATH in the 1970s.
How this British farm boy, raised in creamy Devonshire, ended up in Seattle working on some of the most innovative solutions to developing world health problems offers insight into the evolution of PATH and, to some extent, the entire field of global health.
“In the beginning, our approach was not well-received by either the public or private sectors,” said Free. “It was a bit out-of-the-box.”