It is somewhat strange to me that one day each year is selected as “World Health Day.” My belief is that every day should be “World Health Day.” But I certainly won’t miss the opportunity to observe today, April 7th, which has been celebrated as World Health Day since 1950, to mark the founding of the World Health Organization. This day affords a worldwide opportunity to focus on key public health issues that affect the international community.
This year’s theme for World Health Day focuses on urbanization and health with a campaign called “1000 cities – 1000 lives.” The idea of cities focused on promoting world health made me proud of what’s happening right here in our own city of Seattle. In fact, just recently we changed our “nickname” from SBRI to Seattle BioMed to more closely reflect our ties with and pride in the city we’ve called home for nearly 35 years.
But aside from the pride of having so many world-class global health organizations clustered together, what’s the biggest advantage of our city? It’s the opportunity for more collaborations, increased idea exchange and additional partnerships. While the old saying is that “necessity is the mother of invention,” I actually believe that “proximity is the mother of invention.” By being close together, we’ll form tighter bonds that can lead to new solutions for global health. I can already see it happening as I take the two-block stroll to PATH (a new neighbor in the growing global health/biotech hub that is the South Lake Union neighborhood) for meetings or hear of casual conversations between researchers in local restaurants or gatherings.
Just two weeks ago, Hans Rosling – the guru of global health statistics and long-time darling of TED conferences – was in town to keynote Seattle BioMed’s annual event. In addition to visiting Seattle BioMed, he also spent time at PATH, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as met with key members of the Washington Global Health Alliance. He was amazed at the how closely we were all located, and noted the benefit that gave us as a global health community. Hans urged us – several times – to take advantage of that by determining how to more fully engage students and the public in our work. He’s right: there is strength in numbers, and by banding together we can more fully engage others in how to play a role in improving the health of the world. Ideas are already coming forth.
And, we already know of our city’s legacy for global health leadership. Each year, Seattle BioMed gives its “Advancing Global Health Award.” And, we rarely have to look beyond our own backyard for honorees. In the past, we’ve recognized very deserving people from Bill Foege, the man credited with helping eradicate smallpox, to Ralph Munro, known for his work with Rotary to help eliminate polio. This year, we recognized a new partner, the Seattle Sounders FC, which has been responsible for turning thousands of soccer fans into warriors in the fight to eliminate malaria. Without a doubt, more global health leaders will emerge from our city.
So, on this day, let’s celebrate Seattle’s role in global health, but let’s work to make every day “World Health Day.”
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