What is PATH? A longtime colleague weighs in

When Gretchen Shively began working at PATH in 1988, the organization had fewer than 100 employees and most everyone worked in Seattle. More than 25 years later, our staff tops 1,200 in 40 cities worldwide, and every single one of us has access to something called the Internet.

Portrait of Gretchen Shively.

PATH has changed since Gretchen Shively joined the staff in 1988, but our core values remain constant. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

It is safe to say that during a distinguished career culminating as associate leader of our Technology Solutions program, Gretchen has seen some change—within the organization and without.

As Gretchen prepares to end this phase of her career with PATH (she’s promised to help us out occasionally on a consulting basis), we asked her to reflect on what’s remained consistent about PATH—what it is that makes us who we are, no matter the decade. Here’s some of what she said:

I started in 1988 and the first day I remember people talking about it being the tenth anniversary of PATH and what they were going to do to celebrate. In those days, PATH was really very anonymous. We were just this little organization that happened to be in the Pacific Northwest because the founders, two of whom lived here, didn’t see any reason to locate anywhere else.

Affordable, appropriate, available

Blue moped with a cardboard box labeled "SoloShot" straped to the back.

The SoloShot™ syringe, here being transported on the back of a health worker’s motorbike, is an example of affordable, appropriate technology designed at PATH, and in this case licensed to manufacturer BD. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

So, when I joined, we were really small, we were really focused, and our name—which we used, even though it was very long—was Program for Appropriate Technology in Health. And that meant something to people. It defined us: we were an organization that did things in the background to get technologies into use and influence global health. It felt like there was a defined mission—even though at the time, we didn’t have a written mission statement. Nevertheless, we still had a consistent and driving theme.

Fast forward to now: I think we are still an organization that works to get affordable and culturally relevant and acceptable technology solutions into the hands of people who can benefit from them. We have retained that focus on appropriate technology. It’s gotten bigger and expanded to encompass more, but it’s still about identifying needs that can be met by technology and delivering on solutions. For me, there may have been changes around that mission, but PATH hasn’t changed at its core.

Thank you, Gretchen, for your invaluable service, and best wishes for all that comes next.

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How does military service provide unique training for global health work?

Guest contributor Katelyn Creech is a communications assistant at PATH.

Nate Sanders, wearing US Army fatigues, stands in front of a sand-colored wall.

Nate Sanders’ Army Reserve unit was deployed to Kuwait soon after he started a new job with PATH. Photo: courtesy of Nate Sanders.

In November 2013, Nathaniel “Nate” Sanders started a new job at PATH making sure our facilities in Seattle run smoothly. Just a few months later, his Army Reserve unit was called into service.

“I am currently deployed in Kuwait with the 595th Transportation Brigade in support of Operation New Dawn and the withdrawal of troops, trucks, and equipment from Afghanistan,” Nate explained via email from overseas. “I will be deployed for one year total with nine months here in Kuwait.”

When he returns, says his PATH Performance Leader Mary Cooke, his job will be waiting for him.

Outstanding patriotic support

Mary, our global facilities team leader, recently was honored with a Patriot Award from Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), an agency of the Department of Defense. The award recognizes individuals who “provide outstanding patriotic support, leadership, and cooperation to their employees, who like the citizen warriors before them, have answered their nation’s call to serve,” said John Glynn, ESGR employer outreach director in Washington State.

“Supportive supervisors and employers are critical to maintaining the strength and readiness of our nation’s National Guard and Reserve units,” he said.

Benefits to both soldier and employer

Supporting employees who are members of the National Guard and Reserve may be the right thing to do, but it also benefits PATH, our chief human resources officer Kathy O’Driscoll points out.

Mary Cooke holds a framed Patriot Award certificate.

Mary Cooke displays her Patriot Award from Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

“PATH is proud to provide employment opportunities to past and present members of the armed services,” she says. “We have strengthened our partnership with organizations that support veterans to ensure greater visibility of PATH job opportunities. The US military provides service members training and experience working in low-resource environments around the world. Those experiences are valuable to PATH’s work driving innovation to ensure health equity.”

“I want to thank PATH for all the support and flexibility during and prior to my deployment,” Nate told us from Kuwait. “The ability for me to deploy in support of the country’s mission and to have the support of PATH is unparalleled and greatly appreciated.”

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CDC official visiting PATH sees innovation in immunization

A man holds out a plastic box to a woman, who takes it in one hand.

Rebecca Martin of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and PATH’s Pat Lennon examine a prototype of housing for the FoneAstra milk banking monitor during Dr. Martin’s visit to our headquarters. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Guest contributor Dr. Rebecca Martin, director of the US Centers for Disease Controls’ (CDC) Global Immunization Division, recently visited our Seattle headquarters.

Diseases know no borders. A person with measles in an airplane today can lead to an outbreak of measles in the United States one week later—something that’s been happening in record numbers this year.

To achieve its mission of working 24/7 to protect Americans from threats to health, safety, and security, CDC focuses on improving global health. The vision of CDC’s Global Heath Strategy is a world where people live healthier, safer, and longer lives through science, policy, partnership, and evidence-based public health action. Continue reading »

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Let them play: PATH takes on early childhood development

Man smiles down at baby in his arms, who reaches her arms up to him. A woman in the background looks on, smiling.

To build cognitive, physical, social, and language abilities, we must reach children by age two. Photo: PATH.

My husband has a running joke. When our son complains, my husband puts on his best old man voice and says, “When I was a boy, all we had to play with was rocks.” My son rolls his eyes, while I picture the toddlers I saw in a Zambian township crowded with AIDS orphans. The little guys were playing with rocks—they had nothing else.

Portrait of Matthew Frey

Matthew Frey. Photo: PATH.

Children, it’s clear, have to play—but rocks only go so far in stimulating their busting-to-learn brains. So when I heard that PATH was piloting early childhood development (ECD) programs for the youngest Africans, I was intrigued. ECD has typically been housed in education ministries and preschool programs, not global health organizations. To learn more, I sat down with Matthew Frey, who leads our ECD work, shortly after the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation awarded PATH a grant to roll out the work on a bigger scale.

Q. Why is PATH integrating ECD with health?

A toddler sits on a mat in front of a young woman. He holds a pan and a wooden spoon.

Toys don’t have to be elaborate. A pan and a spoon can stimulate a young child’s interest. Photo: PATH.

A. Early childhood development encompasses a range of interventions—child care and stimulation, nutrition, health, child protection. In the last few years there’s been growing recognition that trying to influence development starting with preschool is too late. To build cognitive, physical, social, and language abilities, we must get to kids by age two.

The health sector is the only way to reach these very young children at risk and their caregivers. PATH’s approach is to piggyback onto existing systems, training community health workers and nurses who are already giving health advice and services to parents. We add skills in tracking developmental milestones and counseling parents in caring for and stimulating young children so they develop to their fullest.

A recent study in The Lancet showed just how powerful this is. Community health workers in Jamaica made weekly home visits over a two-year period to encourage parents to play and talk with their children. Twenty years later, these kids had a 25 percent greater earning power than the controls. It’s just amazing. Continue reading »

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Why do newborns need an action plan?

A smiling mother holds a newborn wrapped in a red blanket.

Work on innovative policies and sound implementation plans sounds technical, but the point is easy to understand: help newborns survive. Photo: PATH/Amy MacIver.

At the end of this month, O’Brien Mashinkila, PATH’s Zambia-based policy and advocacy officer, will join 800 global health professionals, policymakers, business leaders, and advocates at the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, & Child Health Partners’ Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa. There, he and his colleagues in global health will discuss the final push to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and set new targets for women’s and children’s health after 2015.

Portrait of O'Brien Mashinkila.

O’Brien Mashinkila. Photo: courtesy of O’Brien Mashinkila.

As O’Brien prepared for the forum, he answered a few questions about the success his home country has had in setting policy that will help babies survive the first days and weeks of life, and what the upcoming global meeting could mean for newborn survival.

Q: Now that Zambia’s national Integrated Management of Childhood Illness strategy includes newborn care, what lessons do you hope to share with partners at the forum?

A. We were able to achieve this policy change in Zambia because key stakeholders recognized a gap in newborn care and set out to fill it.

While the implementation of the strategy began in the mid-1990s, Zambia did not have a national strategic document to guide its scale-up. PATH collaborated with the government and other partners for over a year to develop the Newborn Health Care Scale-Up Framework and to integrate newborn care into the national strategy. Continue reading »

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Everyone deserves a fifth birthday

Young girl wearing a white dress looks up at the camera while another girl behind her looks down.

We’ve set an ambitious goal: end preventable child deaths. Photo: PATH/Teresa Guillien.

Two years ago, PATH joined the governments of Ethiopia, India, and the United States as well as thousands of our colleagues in global health and development in an unusually straightforward effort: to end the preventable deaths of young children by 2035.

Portrait of Rachel Wilson.

Rachel Wilson. Photo: PATH.

Let me restate that for those of you who aren’t used to such directness from usually cautious, evidence-fixated organizations like PATH: we’re no longer proposing to decrease preventable deaths among children younger than 5, which stood last year stood at 6.3 million infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. We’re proposing to stop them altogether.

We can stop preventable child deaths

On June 25, we’re convening with colleagues, legislators, health ministers, partners, and others at 5th Birthday and Beyond, an event in Washington, DC. We’ll meet to mark the remarkable progress made on child survival in the last 24 months and to commit ourselves to the next step—a world where every child lives to celebrate his or her fifth birthday.

We’re confident that together, we will reach our goal. A fascinating new analysis (11.3 MB PDF) by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation published in The Lancet shows why we’re so optimistic.

Infographic of several data showing declines in child deaths since 1990, including the combination of diagnostics, procedures, vaccines, new drugs, and public health campaigns equaling 4.2 million fewer child deaths.

Declines in child deaths have accelerated rapidly, especially between 1990 and 2013, as this infographic from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows.

Remarkable progress—so far

The study’s authors point out that, since 1970, the world has made remarkable progress in saving the lives of young children. Over the past 44 years, under-five child mortality rates dropped by a walloping 64 percent—which is even more impressive if you recall that those years encompass the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

What’s more, most countries the authors analyzed—including 43 of 48 in sub-Saharan Africa—experienced faster decreases in child mortality from 2000 to 2013 than they did during 1990 to 2000—an encouraging sign that progress may be accelerating.

The study’s authors single out three factors behind the decrease in child mortality: rising income per person, maternal education, and the availability of  new drugs, vaccines, and other health innovations. This last category, which includes many of the health innovations PATH focuses on, led to the greatest impact: 4.2 million fewer child deaths in 2013 compared to 1990.

Innovation is our sweet spot

PATH has long been known for accelerating innovations that address the leading causes of illness and death for women and children. We’ve designed, developed, and adapted more than 100 technologies, from vaccine vial monitors that alert health workers to heat damage to neonatal resuscitators that can help a baby take her first breath. And we’ve worked hard to strengthen and improve the health systems to deliver those technologies.

One of our unique strengths is breaking down barriers that keep health solutions from achieving impact at scale. We develop targeted solutions, test and refine them, gain regulatory approval, foster supportive policies, develop markets, commercialize products, and work with partners to scale them up where they are needed.

We’re more convinced than ever that these types of innovation are crucial to establishing a world in which no child dies of a preventable cause. And we’re encouraged that data published in The Lancet points firmly in the direction we’ve been headed for almost 40 years.

What’s your number?

But why zero deaths? Why not pick a more “realistic” goal? This is not the time to back down. Though we’ve made impressive progress, it’s hard to celebrate that progress when last year 6.3 million young children died of preventable causes. If 6.3 million are too many, what number can we live with—4 million? 2 million?

I know the number I can live with—it’s zero. And I’m confident we can get there.

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Stop the flow of diarrhea

Seven women holding young children on their laps sit in chairs lined along a white wall.

Mothers and their children await care at a health clinic in Bangladesh. Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik©.

Guest contributor Eugenio de Hostos is director of research and preclinical development for PATH’s Drug Development program. His post was first published on our Drug Development program blog.

When you walk into a diarrheal disease health clinic in a place like Bangladesh, the reality of the disease strikes you immediately. It’s the rows of bright orange bed covers drying in the sun, the long lines of women with children waiting to be seen, and the patients—most of them too young and vulnerable to be fighting for their lives.

Young woman holds a tiny white cup up to a young child's mouth.

Oral rehydration solution, administered spoonful by spoonful, can be a lifesaver for young children with severe diarrhea. Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik©.

The onslaught of diarrhea is sudden and the loss of fluids is copious. Mere inconvenience quickly turns to a daily struggle for life, fighting off the dehydration that diarrhea causes. A child is rushed to a hospital where lifesaving oral rehydration solution (ORS) is administered, usually by a mother or a care provider. Spoon by spoon, lost fluids are slowly restored, though weakness can persist for several weeks and repeated bouts of diarrhea are common.

The reality is that despite rapid progress in reducing child deaths from diarrhea over the last decade—a decrease of more than 50 percent from almost 1.3 million in 2000 to approximately 600,000 in 2012—there is a lot more to be done. And as long as diarrhea continues to take the lives of more than 1,600 children every day before they can grow to see their fifth birthday, there is no time we can allow ourselves to waste. Continue reading »

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Eight signs life is improving for African children

Children in many African countries have a better shot at a healthy life than ever before. We’re marking the International Day of the African Child on June 16 by taking stock of the encouraging if uneven progress Africa has made in the past two decades in improving the odds of survival for children.

There is still a long way to go. But the overall picture for Africa’s children includes bright spots, promising trends, and the prospect of a future when all children have an equal chance to live full and healthy lives.

1. Africa is making strides against the top killers of children.

Group of children standing next to a blue building.

Photo: PATH/Eric Becker.

A half-million fewer African children under age five died between 1990 and 2010 from diarrheal disease and lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia, two of the leading child killers. Premature death and disability from diarrheal diseases fell 34 percent in that period, and death and disability from lower respiratory infections dropped 22 percent, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Continue reading »

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What Africa’s children need to succeed

Five young children in green school uniforms smile up at the camera.

Schoolchildren in Zambia pair health and hygiene through lessons in sanitation. The country is pursuing an integrated strategy to overcome childhood diarrheal disease with education, proven interventions, and new tools. Photo: PATH/Gareth Bentley.

Dr. Ayo Ajayi is PATH’s vice president of International Development.This post originally appeared on The Guardian‘s Global Development Professionals Network partner zone.

Portrait of Ayo Ajayi.

Dr. Ayo Ajayi. Photo: PATH/Mike Wang.

When a child is educated, a community can prosper. On the International Day of the African Child, commemorated on June 16 each year, we celebrate school enrollment and educational improvements. But when a child is not healthy, he cannot attend school. If he is vulnerable to resilient diseases that target poor, rural communities, he may not even reach school age.

Each year, we celebrate the growing number of African children who thrive beyond their first years, young lives spared from preventable diseases. Often, we can credit innovation: new tools that help conquer old threats. The African Rotavirus Symposium, which begins this week, will celebrate rotavirus vaccines’ steady march across the continent—expanding access to an innovative tool to conquer the most common and deadly cause of childhood diarrhea. Continue reading »

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Senator Patty Murray visits PATH

Mike speaks to the senator, surrounded by equipment in PATH's shop.

PATH’s Mike Eisenstein welcomes Senator Patty Murray to our product development shop and provides an overview of our user-centered design process. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Recently, PATH was privileged to host Patty Murray, US senator from Washington State, at our Seattle headquarters. Senator Murray met with PATH president and CEO Steve Davis and chief strategy officer Amie Batson and toured our product development shop and laboratory.

In PATH’s shop, the group discussed PATH’s work on a low-cost electrochlorinator for water purification. Originally developed by Seattle-based Cascade Designs, Inc., the device requires only a power source—usually a battery—along with salt and water to create a concentrated chlorine solution. Chlorine added to water inactivates bacteria, viruses, and some protozoa, making it safer to drink.

Jesse shows electrocholorinator device to Senator Murray.

PATH staff member Jesse Schubert shows the senator elements of a prototype electrochlorinator, which has been field tested in Korogocho, Kenya, and redesigned based on that feedback. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

This technology was originally developed by Cascade, and improved with support from congressional appropriations championed by Senator Murray, in a project that outfitted 20,000 US Marines with an effective on-the-move water purification system. The PATH collaboration is focused on reducing the unit cost and increasing the capacity of the device, for use in low-resource settings where poor water quality has a huge impact on health.

Faster diagnosis, faster treatment

After donning lab coats, the group toured PATH’s laboratory, where they learned about progress on several next-generation health innovations, including a project funded by the US National Institutes of Health to develop a rapid assay to diagnose infants infected by HIV.

Amie Batson, Patty Murray, and Steve Davis stand in front of PATH signage.

PATH’s Amie Batson and Steve Davis (left and right) host Senator Patty Murray (center) at PATH’s Seattle headquarters. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

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