Global health

The Lasker Award, given for outstanding contributions to medicine and medical research, is sometimes referred to as "America's Nobel Prize." Since the award was established in 1945, more than 80 laureates have gone on to win the Nobel.

The medical aid group Medicines Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is one of four recipients this year, accepting the award for its contributions to the fight against Ebola. I spoke with the president of the U.S. Board of Directors, Dr. Deane Marchbein, who was in New York for the presentation.

Jerome Delay / AP Photo

As the Ebola outbreak first emerged in West Africa, some global health experts downplayed it. The virus has flared up here and there since it was discovered in the 1970s, and rarely has its death toll exceeded a few dozen or at most a few hundred.

“I actually was among those who didn’t think it would be that big a deal, and like the previous ones, it would be contained and would burn itself out very quickly,” said Tom Paulson, who has been covering global health for nearly 20 years. “I was dead wrong.”

Paulson, the founder and editor of Humanosphere, sat down with KPLU to talk about why he’s changed his mind and come to see Ebola in Africa as a major menace.


The planet could be much more crowded by the end of the century than previously thought, according to a new report by University of Washington researchers.

That contradicts a general consensus that world population growth is likely to stabilize before long. The population has been expected to rise from the current seven billion or so to about nine billion, before leveling off and possibly declining.

But new projections, based on new statistical models, suggest the numbers will not tail off after all. Instead, statistician and sociologist Adrian Raftery said we could hit 11 billion and counting by century’s end.

Chugrad McAndrews of Seattle / "The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook," published by Ten Speed Press.

Seattle author David George Gordon would be more than happy to share his recipe for his three bee salad or cricket nymph risotto. Try the deep-fried tarantula, the bloomin’ onion of arachnids.

Gordon is known as “the bug chef,” and has written one of the more comprehensive cookbooks showcasing bugs and their kin. He is also a true believer in insects as a food source for an ever-hungrier planet, as laid out in a lengthy U.N. report last year.

Courtesy of Bob Wood.

Editor's Note: “Senior Thesis” is a special week-long series that brings together venerable veterans in various fields with university students hoping to forge a career in the same field.

Bob Wood and Carolyn Wortham sat opposite each other in the KPLU studio, separated by a generation during which a whole lot had happened.

Between the time that Dr. Wood took up arms against the AIDS epidemic and when Wortham took on the same fight, the illness has gone from mysterious killer to manageable condition. The battlefield had moved, to some extent, from urban gay neighborhoods to the developing world.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

People fighting hunger in the developing world have noticed a troubling mystery: malnourished children sometimes fail to get healthier even when given a lot of extra nutrients.

The key to helping them may be to focus not on the kids, but on their cows, according to a team led by a University of Washington professor.

The researchers from UW, Washington State University and CDC-Kenya just received a Gates Foundation grant to examine the values of a holistic approach—one that focuses on the intersection of human, animal and environmental health.

Sometimes seeing data presented in the right way can change your entire view of the world. 

Bill Gates says that’s what happened to him 20 years ago, with global health:

“I was completely stunned by the burden of disease in poor countries, to see that diarrhea was killing literally millions of children, and that some of those causes of diarrhea, like rotavirus, were preventable," he said. "There was a vaccine available in rich countries, but ironically, not in poor countries."


Americans are likely to live longer than we might have in the past – but the quality of our golden years appears to be getting worse, when it comes to health.

A new study by Seattle researchers shows Alzheimer’s, depression, and back pain have been increasing dramatically since 1990.

Oliver Erdmann / Flickr

In 2012, it’s more likely to be obesity than infectious disease, even in many so-called "poor" countries.

People around the world are living longer – but they're also more likely to get sick from diseases that are common in America. These trends are highlighted in an ambitious Seattle-based project to track health and sickness in countries around the world.

David Oliver Relin, a journalist who had reported from around the world before gaining fame — and getting mired in controversy — as co-author of the best-selling Three Cups of Tea, took his own life when he died on Nov. 15 in Oregon, The New York Times reports.

It got that word from Relin's family.

Melinda Gates is running full tilt against the Catholic Church on family planning and now the philanthropy’s blog is pumping out this thinly disguised attack on, well, rich people. Something seems to be changing over there. The Gates Foundation is getting political. As the authors — Joe Brewer, Martin Kirk and Adriana Valdez Young — say:

“The depiction of poverty as a background reality with no human cause conceals the active role of decision makers to create and perpetuate it.”

Read the full story on Humanosphere.

Emily Lynch / MSF

The latest violence in central Africa is resonating with a group of doctors in the Puget Sound area. They’re medical relief workers who take time off from local clinics and hospitals to work in battle zones. Some are sharing their stories tonight, Nov. 28th, at a film screening in Seattle sponsored by Doctors Without Borders (details below). 

For example, Dr. Terra Bowles is just back from her third stint in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Tom Paulson / Humanosphere

Today’s Seattle subversives are pretty low-key, superficially boring even — smiling at you in their wrinkled clothing, offering tea and cookies, mumbling quietly about equity and justice and gently nudging you toward whatever might be their most ambitious goal.

Take the iLEAP program, for example.

Read the story on Humanosphere.

Tom Paulson / Humanosphere

“Good science is based on uncertainty, on having an open mind and dealing with the unknown,” said Dr. Jim Kublin, executive director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) based at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

His frankness got a laugh at the network’s meeting in Seattle this week. And what makes it easier to laugh about not knowing where you’re going, he added, is that researchers today have a lot more tantalizing clues.

Read more on Humanosphere.

Three of the area’s leading organizations at the forefront of this movement – Hub Seattle, Social Venture Partners and the Bainbridge Graduate Institute – celebrate the grand opening of their new conjoined and co-working space known as the Center for Impact and Innovation.

Read more on Humanosphere.

Tom Paulson / Humanosphere

"We invent things and have fun doing it. We explore ideas. Most of them won’t work but they don’t all need to work. We have a number of projects out there that I would say stand a fair chance of improving the lives of many people," Nathan Myhrvold.

The former chief technologist for Microsoftis a close associate of Bill Gates and now CEO of a business, Intellectual Ventures, which some say holds more patents (about 40,000) than any other company in the United States.

I wanted to talk to Myhrvold about his recent ventures into philanthropy, into humanitarianism, which his firm has dubbed its “Global Good” project.

Check out Humanosphere for the rest of the story.

What was supposed to be a 60-day moratorium on certain experiments involving lab-altered bird flu has now lasted more than eight months. And there's no clear end in sight.

Researchers still disagree on how to best manage the risks posed by mutant forms of highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu. The altered viruses are contagious between ferrets, which are the lab stand-in for humans. The fear is that these germs could potentially cause a deadly flu pandemic in people if they ever escaped the lab.

The words “global health” conjure up for most folks images of health workers vaccinating children in Africa, major initiatives aimed at getting anti-HIV drugs or anti-malaria bed nets out to people in poor communities across the globe or any number of other noble efforts aimed at fighting diseases of poverty.

Most don’t think of global health as a means to also advance corporate or political agendas. But Anne-Emanuelle Birn does …

Read the interview on Humanosphere.

Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today published its 2011 annual report. Yes, I know it’s almost 2013. But they’ve been going through some big internal changes and all these annual reports are issued after-the-fact.

Check out the five main takeaways from the report on Humanosphere.

Partners Asia / Prasit Phasomsap

Burmese activist and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is now on a U.S. tour, her freedom celebrated as evidence of change in this once repressive nation. But a Seattle-based humanitarian organization that works with the poor in Myanmar-Burma still has to operate 'discreetly,' off the radar.

Read more on Humanosphere.

In the U.S., the pap smear has become a routine part of women's health care, and it's dramatically reduced cervical cancer deaths. But in Africa and other impoverished regions, few women get pap smears because the countries lack the laboratories and other resources necessary to offer them.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU News.

When you flush the toilet every day, you probably aren’t thinking much about where your waste goes. But Seattle’s Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is putting that question on the international agenda.

They’re donating more than three and a half million dollars in grants and prize money to help developing countries take advantage of new waste treatment technologies. A “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” fair kicked off yesterday.

KPLU environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp went to check it out. (Click "Play" above to hear the elements of her story.)

HELENA, Mont. — The charity co-founded by Greg Mortenson has named seven new board members as part of a settlement over accusations the "Three Cups of Tea" author mismanaged the organization that builds schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Central Asia Institute announced Thursday that the new board members were named during a meeting in San Francisco last week. They include philanthropists, academics, businessmen and an attorney. Mortenson and two others previously had been the sole board members.

Athletes going to the London Olympics commonly have stories of overcoming adversity. But few can top African-born distance runner Lopez Lomong. The one time "Lost Boy" of Sudan relocated to the Portland area last year. He's running for Team USA, but hopes to leverage Olympic success into greater aid and attention for his former homeland.

Like the proverbial mosquito that buzzes in your ear but won't die, a lasting solution to malaria has been maddeningly elusive to health experts.

CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

When you consider that one in seven people worldwide will go to bed tonight hungry, it does seem fair to ask: Can organic deliver the goods for the developing world?

New research says yes – but not everywhere and not for everything.

Read more on Humanosphere.

Tom Paulson / Humanosphere

The Harvard University professor of international development is author of “The New Harvest,” a book (free online) in which he makes his case for how agricultural reforms offer the most promise for positively transforming African economies.

Juma, though entertaining, doesn’t mince words — “Africa is already doing organic farming … and it isn’t working very well.” He describes himself as a bit of ‘techno-optimist,’ a believer like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the fundamental power of science and technology to transform agriculture in poor countries, especially sub-Saharan Africa.

Read more on Humanosphere.

Tom Paulson

President Obama has announced the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Among the honorees is William Foege. The Vashon Island doctor developed a vaccination plan that wiped out small pox.

By Claudia Rowe, special correspondent

Despite living in a country with one of the best health-care systems in the world, thousands of American girls will have shorter lives than their mothers, according to new research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

In 661 areas of the country life expectancy for women has stagnated or decreased since 1999.

“It’s tragic,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, who lead the team of researchers evaluating American health and mortality trends across the country.

Read more on Humanosphere.

This time, the video by Invisible Children is not so much a repeat of their first call to action as a defense of their action.

It’s kind of like when the Star Wars franchise put out a sequel that actually went back in time to explain how everything got started.

Read more on Humanosphere.