This month, PATH produced a new tool for diagnosing river blindness, a disease that affects nearly 18 million globally (stats that are often unheard of). It’s the first of its kind, says Nicole Fallat, Communications Officer at PATH.
In addition to making funds available to the United Nations for the current outbreak, the Seattle-based foundation has stated that it plans to work with public and private sector organizations to develop vaccines and diagnostic tools that could help prevent something like this from happening in the future.
By Michael McCarthy
We’re living longer, but many of us are living with chronic illnesses that significantly lower the quality of our lives, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Washington.
The survey, called the Global Burden of Disease Study, finds that there has been a major change in the causes and impact of poor health over the past decades, with a shift away from early death to chronic illnesses and disability.
The survey found that since 1970 life expectancy has increased by 11.1 years for men and 12.1 years for women and that deaths among children under age 5 have plummeted, except in subSaharan Africa where childhood mortality remains high.
In general, improvement in life expectancy has been steady, but it slowed in the 1990s largely due to deaths from HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa and alcohol-related deaths in in easter Europe and central Asia.
With our longer life expectancy, the major burden caused by disease is no longer early death but instead chronic illnesses that cause pain and disability, such as arthritis, diabetes and dementia, and psychological disorders, the study concludes.
The study was led by University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We’re finding that very few people are walking around with perfect health and that, as people age, they accumulate health conditions,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME and one of the founders of the Global Burden of Disease.
“At an individual level, this means we should recalibrate what life will be like for us in our 70s and 80s. It also has profound implications for health systems as they set priorities,” Murray said.
Dr. Paul Ramsey, chief executive officer of UW Medicine and dean of the University of Washington School of Medicine, said the study will serve as “a management tool for ministers of health and leaders of health systems to prepare for the specific health challenges coming their way.”
“At a time when world economies are struggling, it is crucial for health systems and global health funders to know where best to allocate resources,” Dr. Ramsey said.
The study found that while heart disease and stroke remained the two greatest causes of death between 1990 and 2010, all the other rankings in the top 10 causes changed.
Diseases such as diabetes, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease moved up the list, and diarrhea, lower respiratory infections, and tuberculosis moved down, the researchers report.
Explore the changes with this interactive chart.
And while malnutrition used to be a major cause of illness and death, today poor diet and physical inactivity are to blame for soaring rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke the study found.
“We have gone from a world 20 years ago where people weren’t getting enough to eat to a world now where too much food and unhealthy food – even in developing countries – is making us sick,” said Dr. Majid Ezzati, Chair in Global Environmental Health at Imperial College London and one of the study’s lead authors.
The study appears in this week’s issue of the medical journal The Lancet.
President Barack Obama today awarded physician and epidemiologist Dr. Bill Foege the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, for his work combating infectious disease and promoting public health both at home and abroad.
Foege helped lead the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. He served as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has helped advance global health through his work with the Carter Center and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr. Foege is currently a senior fellow in the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, Presidential Distinguished Professor of International Health at the Rollins School of Public Health, and affiliate professor of epidemiology at the UW School of Public Health.
Both a building and an endowed chair are named after Foege, the Dr. William H. Foege Genome Sciences and Bioengineering building and the endowed chair of the global health department.
The President’s remarks:
“In the 1960s, more than 2 million people died from smallpox every year. Just over a decade later, that number was zero — 2 million to zero, thanks, in part, to Dr. Bill Foege. As a young medical missionary working in Nigeria, Bill helped develop a vaccination strategy that would later be used to eliminate smallpox from the face of the Earth. And when that war was won, he moved on to other diseases, always trying to figure out what works. In one remote Nigerian village, after vaccinating 2,000 people in a single day, Bill asked the local chief how he had gotten so many people to show up. And the chief explained that he had told everyone to come see — to “come to the village and see the tallest man in the world.” Today, that world owes that really tall man a great debt of gratitude.”
Seattle’s global health organization PATH announced today that Steve Davis has been appointed president and CEO.
In his new position Davis will oversee PATH’s annual budget of $305 million, a staff of nearly 1,200, and a portfolio of projects based in PATH offices in 22 countries.
PATH projects include the development of an affordable meningitis vaccine, improved screening and treatment for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and low-cost filters for safe drinking water.
Davis comes to PATH from McKinsey & Company, where he was global director of social innovation.
In that position, Davis led a global team that consults for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), governments, and the private sector, with a focus on global health and development, research and development, and Asia and Africa.
Previously, Davis was a long-term CEO of Corbis, a global digital media leader, and served as interim CEO of the Infectious Disease Research Institute, a nonprofit biotech working on vaccines, diagnostics, and drug discovery for infectious diseases of poverty.
His previous experiences also include serving as interim director of PATH’s India program, practicing law with K&L Gates, and working on refugee and human rights issues.
Mr. Davis earned his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, his master’s degree from the University of Washington, and his juris doctor from Columbia University.
Davis will join PATH on June 11 and be based at PATH’s Seattle headquarters.
He succeeds former president and CEO Dr. Christopher J. Elias, who led PATH through significant growth for ten years.
Dr. Elias left PATH in January to become president of the Global Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Seattle Times’ business reporter Kristi Heim reports on Bill Gates’ controversial initiative to push for polio eradication.Many health experts doubt the parasite can be rubbed out.
But Gates argues that after health agencies have spent more than $6 billion over the 22 years to wipe out the crippling disease, the world is on the cusp of success. Gates feels that “falling short” now “means polio could spread back into countries where it was once eliminated and waste that effort,” writes Heim
“But another reason is that Gates sees demonstrating success in polio as crucial for the foundation’s global-health agenda. The final push to eliminate polio will test whether the world’s largest charitable foundation and its partners can eventually eradicate other major killers, such as malaria, and influence how much faith donors and the public have in its ability to achieve audacious goals.”
KPLU’s global health blogger Tom Paulson chimes in on the debate with a review of how the media has been covering the debate.
There are “two basic media narratives,” Paulson says, “the cheerleaders and the cynics.”
“Most of us (I include myself) in the media tend to be cheerleaders for this cause,” Paulson blogs.
Paulson points to a number of stories on the eradication effort including Donald McNeil, Jr.’s story in the New York Times, which presented a more pessimistic take:
“However, even as he presses forward, Mr. Gates faces a hard question from some eradication experts and bioethicists: Is it right to keep trying?
“Although caseloads are down more than 99 percent since the campaign began in 1985, getting rid of the last 1 percent has been like trying to squeeze Jell-O to death. As the vaccination fist closes in one country, the virus bursts out in another.”
Critics say the money would be better spent on promoting routine childhood vaccinations, such as the vaccine against measles, which kills far more children than polio, and strengthening health systems, which, again, they contend, would save more lives.
Once progress has been made on these fronts, they argue, then would be time to try to eradicate the parasite.
PHOTO: Polio virus – CDC
To learn more:
- Read Kristi Heim’s article: Gates wants last push to finish off polio.
- Read Tom Paulson’s post: Critics and fans spar on Bill Gates’ anti-polio push (Paulson’s post links to more articles covering the debate.)
- Read Don McNeil’s article: Gates Calls for a Final Push to Eradicate Polio.