Beyond Anecdotes: Measuring Global Health Impact in Washington State

11/18/09

The threat of global infectious disease was already a significant humanitarian concern when Ken Stuart set up his independent research lab in 1976. Now known as Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, Stuart’s lab directed the research spotlight on tropical diseases, such as malaria, at a time when few others had shown interest.

Fast-forward more than 30 years later: the Seattle region and Washington State have become known throughout the world as a nexus of global health innovation and entrepreneurship.

Original efforts decades ago by SBRI, PATH and the University of Washington have been joined by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Institute for Systems Biology, the Infectious Disease Research Institute, Seattle Children’s Research Institute and its Global Alliance for the Prevention of Prematurity and Stillbirth program, Battelle/Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, Washington State University and, most significantly, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These groups together now form a regionally based, yet powerful, alliance in the interest of global health. And as a result of their collaboration, this state has become the symbol of the United States’ compassion and goodwill to millions of people whose lives have been improved or saved.

This is not a statement we make lightly. It takes more than personal anecdotes of success to paint an accurate picture. So, we have created a map—a preliminary but precise accounting for the broad and deep impact that our state’s health research organizations have on global disease.

Researchers and health care workers in Washington state directly run 480 health projects in 92 countries, according to a study commissioned by the Washington Global Health Alliance, which examined nine of the state’s global health institutions.

These organizations are responsible for, among others, 183 different projects focusing on emerging and epidemic diseases and 105 vaccine and immunization programs. They work with 593 unique partners, including 44 foreign government entities, 60 corporate partners and 245 hospitals and universities.

To catalyze more effective and successful collaborations, researchers will leverage this study data to increase efficiencies and create new opportunities in their work. Businesses and philanthropists can see the direct impact of their investments and partnerships. Policymakers can use this information to demonstrate the strength of our state’s global health sector in the face of increasing competition. We will make the case for more federal funding and recruiting new global health researchers and organizations to the state, boosting our economy in the process.

This study measured data from all the organizations mentioned above with the exception of the Gates Foundation, which funds projects, but does not implement programs. Not included in those figures are the significant education and training programs spearheaded by our universities and community colleges, other state research organizations and humanitarian and relief organizations, such as World Vision or Mercy Corps. We expect to broaden the scope in future studies mapping global health efforts.

All told, it is clear the magnitude of Washington State’s impact on infectious disease and suffering is significant and exceptional. Ultimately, we hope this study leads to even greater progress toward our common vision-improving health for people regardless of where they may live. You can see the more detailed survey results at www.wghalliance.org.

Lisa Cohen is the executive director of the Washington Global Health Alliance, a coalition of the state’s leading global health research and development organizations. Follow @

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