BACK IN THE GLORY DAYS of the British Empire, it was called “tropical medicine.” As the sun dipped on the imperial Brits, it became “international health,” the province of health activists, religious do-gooders, Peace Corps types, and scruffy scientists studying obscure diseases. Now it is “global health,” and Seattle, the home of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is one of its epicenters, on par with Geneva (home of the World Health Organization) and Atlanta (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC).
As a consequence, global health is now widely hailed as a local growth business. Last October participants at the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s annual leadership conference celebrated it as an important “emerging industry” with huge growth potential for the Puget Sound region. In 2007 a University of Washington economic analysis found that global health already supported 44,000 jobs at nearly 200 organizations and brought more than $4 billion in “business activities” to the region. At the annual meeting of the Washington, DC–based Global Health Council in May, Seattle’s leadership role was as visible as Microsoft’s presence is at a consumer electronics conference.
PATH and the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, two formerly tiny, little-known research organizations that started here in the late 1970s, struggled for years to survive. Now they’re megaplayers in the field. Massive cash infusions from the Gates Foundation have made SBRI a world leader in malaria research. PATH, which develops sustainable health technologies and strategies for the developing world, has received nearly 50 grants totaling about $1 billion from the Gates Foundation.
For those working in the field, this is a thrilling moment loaded with immense promise and big challenges. Perhaps no one brings more hard-won frontline experience to those challenges than two local global-health heroes, William Foege and Stephen Gloyd. Both are physicians who cut their professional teeth in remote African villages. Each has dedicated nearly a half century to improving the health of the world’s poorest people.
Dr. William Foege, a Lutheran minister’s son from Colville, Washington, started out as a medical missionary in a church-sponsored health program in eastern Nigeria. The CDC enlisted him to work there as part of a worldwide campaign to eradicate smallpox. The experience transformed Foege, who’d originally set out to treat the sick, into a renowned disease-prevention advocate. He wound up as lead field strategist in the successful smallpox effort—the only campaign so far that has rid the world of a disease. Today he is a senior adviser to the Gates Foundation.
Stephen Gloyd, a doctor’s son, grew up on the nonview side of Seattle’s View Ridge neighborhood, just across the rise from Bill Gates’s childhood home. The Vietnam-era draft convinced him to postpone his intended career as a rock musician and pursue a medical degree at the University of Chicago. Gloyd returned to Seattle for a medical residency in 1973. It was a progressive time in the city, the heyday of the “health for all” community clinic movement and of international solidarity groups supporting democratic efforts overseas. Gloyd worked in the free clinics and got involved in social justice issues. He got back into music and played marimba to raise money for medical assistance in southern Africa. That was how he learned of an urgent need for doctors in newly independent Mozambique.