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Innovation is at the heart of Seattle

February 7, 2017 by Dr. David Fleming

Our VP of public health on why Seattle is an epicenter for global health.

At PATH, our work is inextricably tied to innovative multisector partners, many of whom are Seattle-based but have a global footprint. Pictured here is the Mountain Safety Research SE200™ Community Chlorine Maker in Kenya. Photo: PATH/Jesse Schubert.

At PATH, our work is inextricably tied to innovative multisector partners, many of whom are Seattle-based but have a global footprint. Pictured here is the Mountain Safety Research SE200™ Community Chlorine Maker in Kenya. Photo: PATH/Jesse Schubert.

Woman holding an MSR SE200 Community Chlorine Makers (electrochlorinator), while another woman watches.

One of the great public health intervention programs of modern times was conceived by two Seattle visionaries, a doctor at the University of Washington (UW) and a Seattle Fire Department chief, both of whom asked a simple question: “Could behavior change at the fire department change the mortality of the city?”

Today, we know the answer to that question. Thanks to a collaborative partnership between the fire department and the UW, Medic One was born. The program trains first responders, typically firefighters, to deliver on-site advanced life support care to heart attack victims before transporting them to a hospital. Today, your odds of surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in Seattle are better than anywhere else in the United States. And the Medic One model has been adopted in cities, counties, regions, and countries around the world, speeding emergency response and saving countless lives.

Medic One is just one example of innovations that started in the Seattle area, but are now improving health around the world. Other local innovations include the heart defibrillator, Doppler ultrasound, Sonar, and the wireless telephone, to name a few. Our desire to work together to make life better through innovation is part of the Northwest genome. We’re culturally wired to imagine, to be visionaries, to be partners. To innovate.

Seattle, a sound home for a global health hub

PATH headquarters building in Seattle.

PATH moved to Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood in 2010, but has been part of Puget Sound’s thriving global health community for 40 years. Photo: PATH.

This year, PATH observes our 40th anniversary as a member of a powerhouse of global health innovation, a hub that’s grown up here in the Puget Sound region. The Center for Infectious Disease Research launched the same year we did. Health Alliance International opened their doors a decade later. And just 10 years ago, the UW’s Department of Global Health followed suit, along with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA)—among many more organizations—all focused on the world’s most pressing health problems.

To paraphrase one of PATH’s founders, Gordon Perkin, none of us would have predicted 30 years ago that Puget Sound’s development as a hub for global health would happen to this extent. You can drive down to where the PATH offices are and the growth and development that’s taken place is incredible, much of it is in related health areas.

I’ve been a part of this community for 14 years and have witnessed the value of this brain trust. But the real value is in the ways these institutions successfully come together to collaborate—across many sectors—time and time again.

Last year, a WGHA study found that the global health sector accounted for more than 12,000 jobs across Washington State, boosting the economy by close to US$6 billion. But more validating was our immense global impact: Tens of millions of lives had been saved through the efforts of 168 organizations working in 151 countries on more than 5,000 projects.

Multisector partnerships are key to impact

PATH and Mountain Safety Research (MSR) Global Health, a Seattle-based product innovator and manufacturer, developed the SE200™ Community Chlorine Maker together. This small, portable chlorine generator rapidly produces enough chlorine to treat up to 55 gallons of water with only salt, water, and electricity. Now, we’re developing a much larger version with MSR and World Vision to address safe water needs in schools, health facilities, humanitarian relief settings, and communities.

An infant sips human milk from the Nifty Feeding Cup.

After a mom expresses breast milk directly into the Nifty Feeding Cup, her baby can sip it from a reservoir near the rim. Photo: Laerdal Global Health.

Another partnership, this time between Seattle Children’s Hospital, the UW, and PATH, resulted in the Nifty Feeding Cup, a small, soft feeding cup with a tiny reservoir at its spout, designed to feed nutritious breast milk to preterm infants and babies who have issues breastfeeding. Last year Laerdal Global Health, our nonprofit commercial partner, began offering the Nifty Feeding Cup on a not-for-profit basis to the 75 countries with the highest maternal and neonatal mortality rates.

What’s good for global is also good for local

For six years, PATH has been adapting our knowledge of what works globally to make it work here in Seattle. The nonprofit, Global to Local (G2L) brings together some of the brightest minds in the region to design a sustainable model of care for communities that face health and economic disparities. This collaboration across public and private sectors represents community health care providers, global health organizations, technology companies, community-action organizations, and a growing number of partners and corporate sponsors.

David Fleming talks to a health care worker outside a building in Kinshasa as two other men look on.

During a recent trip to Kinshasa, I met with the deputy director of Kinshasa National Laboratory to learn what they’ve been doing to strengthen laboratory systems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. By meeting with and observing the successes and cha

We’ve learned to engage and mobilize low-income and disaffected Seattle-area communities by using technology adopted in global health solutions to leapfrog delivery barriers. We’ve put in place digital solutions that help some of the poorest immigrant communities living with diabetes effectively manage the condition. Tukwila now has free clinics with connection desks staffed by UW Global Health students representing cultures from around the world and bridging language gaps to assist patients who desperately need access to services. It’s an exciting model that illustrates our region’s willingness to partner and collaborate across sectors to create great change.

PATH has been involved with this work from the beginning. And now, other cities are looking at this model.

Partnerships, collaboration, and imagination fuel innovation

Seattle has grown by leaps and bounds, but our ability to draw and encourage the next generation of talent also continues to grow. As we look to the future, I have great hope for the next decade. Together, we will continue to make a difference in improving the lives of people around the world. It’s heartening to know that much of that work starts here.

MSR SE200 is a registered trademark of Mountain Safety Research, a Division of Cascade Designs, Inc.