Landmark month for global health in Seattle

Wow. May has been a banner month for global health. The Uganda Cancer Institute-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre opens today. Seattle Biomed re-branded as the Center for Infectious Disease Research and is spearheading a petition drive for more federal support for health research. The Seattle Sounders announced that their first annual “Rave Green Run” will support a WGHA member-supported water project in Tanzania, and Bill Gates talked about his optimism for the future at PATH’s Seattle “Breakfast for Global Health”.

I share that optimism and am inspired, as always, by the visionaries in our community and their partners worldwide. Developing authentic partnerships – especially so-called “public-private partnerships” is a painfully slow process. It takes perseverance and patience; as one partner describes it, each stage is its own Mt. Everest. Tuesday marked an exciting apogee for one such project launched by three WGHA members.

Consider this: water-borne disease is the second leading cause of death for children under 5. More than 700 million people lack access to quality sources of drinking water. It is almost impossible to comprehend.

Then consider the combined expertise of a camping equipment company and two of the world’s largest global health NGOs. One of those NGOs, PATH, recognized that the camping equipment engineers at Mountain Safety Research might be able to help come up with a low-cost, effective solution to provide clean water for households and communities. And since the most important component for introducing any new technology is finding out whether people will actually use it, World Vision is now going to manage field trials in 30 sites in Kenya and Mali.

Development of the SE200 Community Chlorine Maker has taken five years and funding from diverse sources ranging from the military, private foundations and Washington state. (The global health portion of the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, formerly the Washington Global Health Fund, which is administered by WGHA, provided some funding support.) PATH saw the opportunity to engage MSR engineers and then provided technical expertise. World Vision’s staff in country (most of whom live in the communities where the trials are taking place) will conduct the tests to see whether the SE200 is widely adopted and, if not, why not. Then MSR will lead commercialization. A true team effort.

The product is simple and brilliant. The SE200 uses salt, water and a rechargeable car battery, to produce a chlorine concentrate that can treat water at wells, kiosks, water trucks and schools.
Working on the SE200 has proven so promising, MSR has just launched a new division, MSR Global Health that will develop innovations for low-resource communities. They will focus on providing access to food, shelter and mobility in addition to water.

I look forward to more partnerships ahead and hope, that given time and these experiences, it will get a little easier and faster to reach each summit.

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