Dr. Gordon Perkin, one of the co-founders of PATH and the Gates Foundation’s first director of global health, receives Canada’s highest honor today.
Perkin, who is Canadian but still allowed to reside in Seattle, is being awarded the Order of Canada for his many contributions to advancing global health.
He, Gordon Duncan and Richard Mahoney created PATH in 1977 (it was actually called something else before being renamed the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) primarily to improve maternal and reproductive health in poor countries.
Back then, Perkin said, he and his colleagues felt there was a great need to build a bridge between the scientific research community, private industry and the public health community to collaborate on creating inexpensive, simple technologies aimed at improving lives in the developing world.
PATH became that bridge and created some simple but powerful life-saving technologies such as the heat-sensitive vaccine vial monitor (now in use for assuring the effectiveness of millions of vaccines), single-use hypodermics (to reduce risk of infections from re-use) as well as a number of strategies for assuring safe births.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, when the still-nascent Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was looking for someplace to spend all that money, Bill Gates Sr. stumbled upon PATH. Bill Sr. said he was “just blown away” (I have him on tape saying that) by their innovative approach to solving global health problems.
Certainly, the word “technology” in their organizational name was also a selling point when it came to Bill Gates the younger.
“Yes, I think there was a lot of serendipity involved,” Perkin said.
Perkin was recruited by the Gates family to help launch the main mission for what would soon become the world’s biggest philanthropy. The rest, as they say, is history. Seattle is now an epicenter for global health on par with Geneva.
And Gordon Perkin played a critical role in making that happen. Congratulations on the award!