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Originally published September 13, 2011 at 8:13 PM | Page modified September 14, 2011 at 6:21 AM

State groups work toward global health

Nearly 60 organizations in Washington are working in global health in nearly every corner of the planet, employing nearly 3,000 workers in Washington and 17,275 out of state, according to a new study released Tuesday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Nearly 60 organizations in Washington are working in global health in nearly every corner of the planet, employing nearly 3,000 workers in Washington and 17,275 out of state, according to a new study released Tuesday.

Seattle's Office of Economic Development and the Washington Global Health Alliance say that with their connections to more than 1,570 partners, these organizations can help other local companies to commercialize new technologies and sell to new markets.

The study, which follows up on a 2009 survey, is the first to quantify the scope of the global-health sector, including faith-based groups and for-profit companies.

"People don't realize just how much breadth of work we're doing, how far our reach is," said Vajra Allan, a program administrator for the Washington Global Health Alliance.

Local organizations are doing or funding global-health work in 156 countries, according to the survey. Outside of the United States, the top seven are: Kenya, India, Tanzania, China, Uganda, Haiti and Ethiopia.

Those activities are as varied as they are ambitious — such as training rural physicians in Kenya, supporting corneal transplants in India, distributing clean-water devices in Uganda and reaching out with community-health projects to underserved immigrants in King County.

Local companies are developing products for the global-health sector. They include Mirador Biomedical of Redmond, which makes a medical-pressure sensor; and Seattle's Mobisante, which is developing ultrasound imaging on smartphones, and Cascade Designs, which produces outdoor gear.

Cascade is commercializing a low-cost, easy-to-use water-treatment device in 10 countries where Seattle-based global health nonprofit PATH has partners. Each year 3.5 million people worldwide die from drinking contaminated water.

David Burroughs, Cascade Designs' vice chairman, said the 500-employee company has taken the long view on its venture into serving people in developing nations without clean water.

"There's this great logical evolution from campers," he said.

The city of Seattle's economic-development office wants to help play matchmaker between local businesses and global-health organizations, as well as strengthen a sector that can do good and do good business.

Tina Vlasaty, its deputy director of business services, said the city administers a global-health "innovation partnership zone" in South Lake Union, where nearly 1,700 people are doing global-health work.

Nearly 2,400 people in King County are working on global health, according to the new study.

While there aren't tax incentives for businesses in the zone, the city views it as "an opportunity to create a brand, an identity for the region," she said.

The $80,000 study was conducted by BERK Inc., a Seattle firm, with grants from the state Department of Commerce, the Washington Global Health Fund and We Work for Health Washington, a branch of the philanthropic arm of PhRMA, the national trade association of pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

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