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.

AP Photo

What happens when you have a thousand humanitarian groups, from the Red Cross and World Vision to small local groups, all converge on the poorest country in the Western hemisphere?

This weekend marks three years since a massive earthquake killed at least 200,000 people and left about a million homeless in Haiti. The international response was one of the largest outpourings of money and assistance ever. Humanitarian groups, including some from the northwest, are still trying to help people recover.

Whether the international effort to save lives and improve Haiti has been a success is hotly debated.

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.

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.

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.

Tom Paulson / Humanosphere

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The International AIDS Conference, a mega-meeting of more than 20,000 people, has opened here to fanfare, protests, calls to action and (overly?) ambitious proclamations aimed at fighting complacency.

The world’s biggest AIDS conference has returned to the U.S. – to a city with HIV infection rates comparable to some African nations – after 22 years of ‘separation’ due to our government’s ban against HIV-infected visitors. The Obama Administration repealed the travel ban in 2010.

It appears to be a critical moment for the global response to AIDS. The theme of AIDS 2012 is “Turning the Tide Together."

Read more on Humanosphere.

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.


The FDA today approved the first drug, known as Truvada, for preventing HIV in people at high risk of infection due to ‘discordance’ – science lingo for being HIV negative but having a sex partner who is HIV positive.

Seattle scientists played a critical role in demonstrating the drug’s effectiveness in Kenya and Uganda studies.

Read more on Humanosphere.

The Associated Press

In a "landmark" legal case, the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline pled guilty last week to engaging in fraudulent, criminal behavior which included covering up adverse drug side-effects, promoting ineffective therapies and hiding unfavorable data — and will pay a record $3 billion in fines.

An aspect of the story that seems to be underreported is that one high-profile Glaxo executive alleged to have engaged in misbehavior is Tachi Yamada, former head of global health for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who was before that head of research and development for GSK.

Read more on Humanosphere.

By Lisa Stiffler, Humanosphere correspondent

In wealthy countries, it’s no problem for an organization to provide a single, narrowly defined service. In a poor community, it won’t always work to focus on singular goal, ignoring the existing challenges that can doom even the most well-intentioned projects.

Enter Erin Larsen-Cooper, a recent graduate of the University of Washington. She's hopeful that programs that are more holistic, that work with existing health programs and employ members of the community that they’re aiming to help, will get us closer to solving some of the problems in global health and poverty.

Read more on Humanosphere.

Michael Free Jazz Faster / Flickr

The threats to our well-being (well beyond climate change now) are quite real. The goals of Rio+20 – to arrive at consensus on what’s needed to avoid continuing this massive fouling of our nest – are perhaps more important to our future than any other meeting we could hope to hold.

So you’d think there would be some urgency to achieve something. Don’t hold your breath.

Read more on Humanosphere.

By Cyan James, Humanosphere correspondent

A fresh crop of Changemakers has been identified by the Washington Global Health Alliance’s Be the Change student competition. Among the three first place winners was a group of UW students who want to enlist a spider to fight malaria ...

Read more on Humanosphere.

Tom Paulson / KPLU

Earlier this week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the latest 100 winners of $100,000 grants from its Grand Challenges Exploration program aimed at supporting high-risk, creative approaches to improving health and fighting poverty in poor countries.

Celebrated for funding “wild” and “wacky” ideas, this year’s batch of Gates Grand Challenge winners included proposals to develop, as the AP reported, unmanned drones to deliver vaccines, tattoos for monitoring pregnancy and a “tuberculosis breathalyzer.”


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.

The Associated Press

One of the northwest’s best kept secrets is a person. He’s Bill Foege, a physician and Northwest native, who recently received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  

Foege went to Nigeria and figured out how to eradicate smallpox – the only human disease ever wiped off the planet. He also ran the nation’s top public health agency, the CDC. More recently, he helped shape the mission of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Tom Paulson, of KPLU's Humanosphere blog, sat down with Bill Foege at his Vashon home to learn more about why people from Seattle are such a force globally. Click the listen button above to hear the interview.

Read Tom Paulson's first-person take on Bill Foege's life and work on Humanosphere.

Cyan James

By Cyan James, Humanosphere correspondent

Despite the potential annoyances—hours spent being screened , frequent health checks, irritating bites, painful twice-daily blood draws for weeks, not to mention the slamming headaches and vicious chills of malaria itself—people like Rasberry say being a malaria trials volunteer is worth it.

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.

The Associated Press

By Lisa Stiffler, Humanosphere correspondent

HIV, West Nile virus, swine flu, ebola – all are human diseases that are traced to livestock, wild creatures and insects from locations scattered around the globe. It can be harder to think of infectious ailments that didn’t start in animals, and in fact these so called “zoonotic pathogens” are to blame for more than 65 percent of emerging infectious disease events over the past 60 years, according to research.

Yet experts in the field say we’re still doing a crummy job watching for new disease outbreaks in animals that could jump to humans.

Read more on Humanosphere.

By Lisa Stiffler, Humanosphere correspondent

Kimberly Choi wound up testing malaria vaccines on mice quite by accident.

“I thought I was going to study Spanish literature,” Choi recalled.

But in 2006, Choi was encouraged by a high school biology teacher to participate in Seattle BioMed’s outreach program, BioQuest, which gives students a chance to do hands-on research.

Read more on Humanosphere.

By Lisa Stiffler, Humanosphere correspondent

Ines Tucakovic was only a child when she and her family fled the war in their native Bosnia. But her job at Seattle’s Infectious Disease Research Institute has a connection to home.

As part of the research team in the institute’s clinical immunology lab, Tucakovic prepares protocols for clinical trials being conducted internationally. The trials are for vaccines for tuberculosis and a parasite called leishmaniasis. Tucakovic also processes the samples taken from patients in Venezuela, Peru, India, Columbia and Sudan.

Read more on Humanosphere.

Rodrigo Senna / Flickr

What looks like a very boring academic and institutional report, entitled “Ensuring Safe Foods and Medical Products Through Stronger Regulatory Systems Abroad,” is in fact a call to arms. A Seattle man is a leading voice in sounding the alarm on the problem of counterfeit drugs.

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.