NPR: Seattle’s global health industry

My colleague Keith Seinfeld did a story for NPR today on our local boom in the global health industry that you can listen to at this link entitled “Seattle Benefits from Growth in Global Health.”


I always twinge a little when I hear people talk about global health as an industry. It is, in the sense that people work in it, get paid to do it and sometimes make things they hope to give or even sell to people in the developing world. But the word bugs me.

The story was introduced on NPR as a bright spot in the down economy: “In Seattle, at least one industry is booming.” The story includes a nice profile of Ken Stuart, founder of Seattle Biomed, and tells of his perseverance working for decades on a shoestring budget (even in a garage) on neglected tropical diseases — until the Gates Foundation stepped in to give him truckloads of money. The story also includes Gov. Christine Gregoire celebrating global health as a great new economic engine for our region.

The Governor isn’t alone in talking about global health mostly as a jobs program. There seems to be some kind of public forum or conference every few weeks based on this notion.

I’m not sure global health should be considered an industry — at least not in the normal sense. It’s supposed to be about helping poor people living on a dollar or two a day, dying from diseases as mundane as diarrhea and generally struggling to survive.

It’s supposed to be about making the world a better place, less unfair, more balanced.

Our tendency (including the media’s “hyperlocal” mindset) to keep referring to this as a local industry concerns me because it puts at risk the original focus.

Someone needs to come up with a new buzzword for these kinds of businesses aimed not so much at making a profit but at helping people. No, non-profit doesn’t work. Our health care system is largely non-profit, but that doesn’t prevent many of the players in that system from being complete greed-heads.

Speaking of new words and self-serving mindsets, here is an earlier KPLU interview Keith and I did explaining what I hope to achieve at this blog, Humanosphere.

Since we are public radio, we will be looking to get some money out of this local industry to support my hand-wringing about too much focus on the money.


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.