The global health bug bit Lisa Cohen in 2001. She was a producer at KING5-TV in Seattle at the time, and along with anchorwoman Jean Enerson, she traveled through Africa for two weeks in a delegation with Patty Stonesifer, who was then running the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“That trip inspired me to get me to get involved with global health,” Cohen says. “I was enthralled with the things PATH and the Gates Foundation were doing. And I was appalled that I didn’t know anything about it.”
Cohen told me this little story this week in a conference room at PATH, the Seattle-based nonprofit organization where she now has an office. She’s the founding director of the Washington Global Health Alliance, a group that aims to strengthen Seattle’s claim as one of the world hubs of global health research and strategic thinking—up there with Geneva, Switzerland, home of the World Health Organization.
Everyone in Seattle knows the Gates Foundation is the world’s biggest charitable organization, and it has lofty goals of tackling the biggest scourges of humanity, like HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis. What fewer people realize is how much research horsepower the region built up even before the foundation arrived, and how much potential there is to strengthen the region by making the research community even more tight-knit, Cohen says.
Momentum for this idea got rolling in the fall of 2006. Cohen had left the TV news business for good, realizing the economics of the business were steering it away from her interest in meaty topics like global health. She had a connection with Gov. Chris Gregoire through serving as a communications adviser in the 2004 election. Two years later, Cohen helped set the agenda for a meeting of all the big guns in the region’s global health scene and the Governor. The meeting drew Bill Gates Sr. to help represent his son’s foundation; PATH president Chris Elias, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center director Lee Hartwell, King Holmes of the University of Washington’s Global Health department, Ken Stuart of the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, as well as provosts from the UW and Washington State University.
The main thrust of the meeting was that Washington state could make a bigger impact if all these hard-driving players lifted their noses from the grindstone once a while to look around at what each other is doing. At a minimum, they could avoid redundancy in their work, and at best, they could form beneficial partnerships to help develop, say, new vaccines. “The Governor was fabulous, and on board right away,” Cohen says. “The first thing she said … Next Page »
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