Tom Paulson

Humanosphere Blogger

The host of the Humanosphere community is Tom Paulson, who spent 22 years reporting on science and medicine at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Tom was one of the first daily news reporters to cover the topic of “global health” (a much-debated label which he discusses the merits of on the Humanosphere website).

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Humanosphere
4:16 pm
Wed March 23, 2011

Local relief agencies weigh in on whether Japan is still in need of international aid

Odd as it may seem, that’s a big question right now within the aid and development community.

By a simple measure of the number of news stories and organizational appeals out there, clearly the answer is: Yes, people should donate to disaster relief in Japan.

Perhaps the most blunt argument answering the question in the negative has come from Felix Salmon, economics columnist for Reuters, who said simply: Don’t Donate Money to Japan.

I’ve posted on this debate a few times, including an anonymous post from an aid worker decrying the “ugly game” of fund-raisingaround the Japan quake-tsunami disaster.

Others have written as well about the question of whether Japan needs/wants help from outside groups such as Stephanie Strom at the New York Times and Saundra Schimmelpfennig at Good Intentions Are Not Enough.

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Humanosphere
5:08 pm
Fri March 18, 2011

Supermodel Christy Turlington on maternal health & cause celebrities

I caught up with supermodel Christy Turlington Wednesday night as she walked from the Andra Hotel over to the Cinerama Theater for the Seattle screening of her documentary on the global problem of maternal deaths and disabilities caused in childbirth: “No Woman No Cry.”

Turlington met with a number of local luminaries and experts on matters of global health, like the UW’s Chris Murray (who minutes before closed out a major global health meeting. See Horton post below), at a VIP reception sponsored by the World Affairs Council and the Washington Global Health Alliance.

Didn’t have much time, but I asked her two questions:

  • Does the high-profile attention given to maternal health as the cause célèbre of global health send the wrong message — that the primary concern for women is their reproductive ability, as opposed to health overall?

I was somewhat disappointed to discover that she was very friendly, well-spoken and gracious despite my attempt to get her to display the kind of behavior more expected of a supermodel. Here’s an audio clip of me chasing down Christy Turlington on the streets of Seattle.

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Humanosphere
10:53 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Eco-farming best for poor, UN expert says, not Gates Foundation approach

One of the Gates Foundation’s primary goals is to improve the lives of smallholder farmers in Africa by helping improve agricultural productivity.

On Tuesday, the United Nations issued a report that appeared to challenge the Seattle philanthropy’s approach.

The Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation have launched what they are calling a new Green Revolution for Africa. It is a multi-pronged strategy that tends to favor scientific and technological solutions and that some see as too heavily dependent upon Western-style, industrialized farming techniques.

This week, the UN issued a report urging “eco-farming” as the best strategy for improving farming in the developed world. In it, the author appears to challenge the wisdom of the Gates Foundation’s approach in agricultural development.

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Humanosphere
4:16 pm
Thu March 3, 2011

Gates Foundation has given BBC $20 million to “shape” stories on maternal, child health

zawtowers Flickr

The Puget Sound Business Journal’s Clay Holtzman reports that the Gates Foundation made its largest ever donation to a media organization, the BBC, in December but didn’t publicize the $19.9 million grant.

As Clay reports, there has been a lot of media attention given lately to the Seattle philanthropy’s funding of media — most recently a comprehensive review of the potential conflicts-of-interest inherent in this practice by the Seattle Times. Clay notes:

When the Seattle Times published a lengthy profile of the Gates Foundation’s grants to professional journalists on Feb. 19, the foundation apparently never disclosed that it had already approved its largest award ever to a media organization.

I’ve written plenty about the Gates Foundation’s support for media, about the potential for good as well as the potential problems given that the philanthropy often IS the story when it comes to global health and development.

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Humanosphere
12:28 pm
Mon February 28, 2011

Five reasons why microfinance is in crisis – and why it matters

TW Collins Flickr

The popular anti-poverty scheme of providing small loans and other financial services to poor people, generally known as microfinance, is in crisis.

“In one sense, you could say it’s a coming of age,” says Alex Counts, CEO at the Grameen Foundation, a leading non-profit microfinance organization with offices in Seattle and Washington D.C.. “Controversy often comes along with growing in size and impact.”

You could also say microfinance is actually suffering from several different crises: An external appearance of a crisis based on a damaged public image; a related, but slightly different, internal “identity crisis” and, at least according to one leading observer, a cash crisis in reverse — too much money.

Here are five reasons for the crisis:

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Humanosphere
12:14 pm
Thu February 24, 2011

Gates Foundation spotlights Rotary Club's polio campaign

On a cold Wednesday night, Feb. 23rd, in Seattle, the Gates Foundation honored the polio eradication work of Rotary Club, and local champion Ezra Teshome.
Gates Foundation

For the record, Bill Gates couldn’t have become the world’s leading advocate for polio eradication if not for people like Ezra Teshome. People who wear sprockets on their heads.

Rotarians.

I hung out on Wednesday night with a small gang of Seattle Rotarians, including Ezra and Bill Gates Sr., who had braved the winter storm warning (of, yeah, that dusting of snow) to celebrate Rotary’s 106th anniversary and its decades of commitment to seeing polio wiped off the face of the planet. 

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HUMANOSPHERE
1:37 pm
Fri February 18, 2011

Young biz entrepreneurs compete for social good

Cynthia Koenig and her Wello
Tom Paulson KPLU Humanosphere

If you walked into the dimly lit, wood-paneled room and listened to the fast-paced talk by Cynthia Koenig, you might be forgiven for thinking she just sounded like another one of those young, profit-oriented entrepreneurs looking for money from venture capitalists or other kinds of investors.

Koenig is, actually, one of those money-seeking young business types, except that the primary goal of her proposal is to make life a lot easier and safer for millions of poor women around the world.

Hence the Wello, a kind of goofy looking water-carrying wheel-barrel (no, that’s not a typo) that she and her colleague, Colm Fay, at the University of Michigan’s business school want to sell to poor people.

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HUMANOSPHERE
2:20 pm
Mon February 14, 2011

Head of Gates Foundation's global health program leaving

Tachi Yamada with Indian child during polio vaccination drive. Dr. Yamada has directed the Gates Foundation's largest department for five years.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Dr. Tachi Yamada is leaving his position in June as head of the Gates Foundation’s global health program.

That’s big news primarily because the Gates’ global health program is so big, the largest program at the world’s largest philanthropy, accounting for more than half of the $3 billion the Gates Foundation spends every year trying to make the world a better, healthier and more equitable place.

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Humanosphere
11:15 am
Thu February 10, 2011

World Vision under fire for Super Bowl “loser” clothing donations

Ever wonder what happens to all those Super Bowl “champions” shirts and hats that are printed up in advance, but for the losing team? 

Given this, World Vision for the past 15 years has been collecting this loser gear left over from the Super Bowl and distributing it to people in poor countries:

World Vision identifies countries and communities in need overseas who will benefit from the gear. This year’s unused Super Bowl merchandise will make its way to Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua, and Romania in the months to come. On average, this equates to about 100 pallets annually — $2 million worth of product — or about 100,000 articles of clothing that, instead of being destroyed, will help children and adults in need.

So don’t be surprised if you see lots of folks in southern Africa, eastern Europe or Central America mistakenly believing the Pittsburgh Steelers won.

It may sound like a nice enough thing to do, but a lot of folks think it’s actually harmful and even immoral: donating clothing.

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Humanosphere
4:49 pm
Tue February 8, 2011

Seattle malaria researcher reacts to newly discovered mosquito

Anopheles gambiae
Centers for Disease Control

One of the big news stories in the malaria world recently is the discovery, announced last week in the journal Science, of a previously unknown type of mosquito that some reports said could threaten malaria control efforts in Africa.

Here’s the problem: Most malaria control efforts in Africa — bednets, spraying — are aimed at preventing mosquitoes from biting humans indoors at night. This newly discovered mosquito, dubbed “Goundry” (after the community in Burkina Faso where it was identified), appears to operate outdoors.

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Humanosphere
11:31 am
Fri February 4, 2011

Feds deny funding to UW health project in Mozambique

Patients at a hospital clinic in Chamoio, Mozambique, where the UW's Health Alliance International offers programs, including work with those afflicted by HIV/AIDS.
UW Health Alliance International

The Obama Administration says it wants to re-invent foreign aid and one of its mantras is to increase “country ownership” of the programs it funds for improving health and welfare in poor countries.

Given this, it came as a shock to Dr. Stephen Gloyd and others at the UW’s Health Alliance International (HAI) when the government basically pulled the plug on a long-running AIDS health care project in Mozambique that is, or was anyway, widely regarded as a model of doing just that.

“It’s ironic given their goal of wanting to strengthen local governance,” said Gloyd, director at HAI.

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Humanosphere
3:12 pm
Mon January 31, 2011

Bill Gates: Push polio into oblivion

A Nigerian child receives drops of polio vaccine at the Ore-Ofe nursery school in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2003.
AP

In case you missed it, Bill Gates thinks we should eradicate polio.

Not just him. You and me, too.

Bill and Melinda Gates have given a lot of money — about $1.3 billion — in support of the global campaign to eradicate polio. But, as Gates has been saying a lot the past week, it’s going to take a truly global effort to succeed:

“If eradication fails because of a lack of generosity on the part of donor countries it would be tragic. We are so close, but we have to finish the last leg of the journey,” says Gates in his annual letter released today.

Gates has been on the global media circuit for the past week or so stumping for polio eradication. He wants the public everywhere to push their governments to provide more funds for this big global project.

Gates made the case early last week when he announced his $50 million donation (matched by an Abu Dhabi crown prince) to boost the vaccination campaign in Pakistan and Afghanistan, two of the four countries (the others being India and Nigeria) where polio is still endemic.

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Humanosphere
2:05 pm
Fri January 28, 2011

Bill Gates gives, and gets, more money for polio eradication

A child receiving polio vaccine.
UNICEF

Bill and Melinda Gates are big believers in vaccines and in the benefit of eradicating, rather than simply controlling, those human diseases that have the potential for being completely wiped out.

Today, Gates and British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a combined new donation of $166 million in support of the global polio eradication campaign.

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Humanosphere
12:31 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Microsoft wants to engineer bugs as disease fighting nanobots

midorisyu Flickr

Todd Bishop at TechFlash has discovered that Microsoft is into global health, in a weird way.

As Todd reports, Microsoft has applied for a patent for “Adapting Parasites to Combat Disease.”

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Humanosphere
2:37 pm
Mon January 24, 2011

Global Fund identifies fraud, media has learned

Circle of money
AMagill Flickr

Today’s big global health news: An international fund that was created (with significant support from the Gates Foundation) to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in poor countries has identified episodes of fraud or at least misappropriation of funds amounting to tens millions of dollars.

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