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November 18, 2009 at 8:00 AM

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Visualize Seattle's global health connections

Posted by Kristi Heim

Seattle's global health experts are busy in laboratories and in the field, working on problems such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. So busy, in fact, that they don't always know about work being done down the street.

Washington's health expertise is spreading around the globe.

A new study being unveiled today attempts to bridge the information gap. It shows the breadth and depth of the state's role in global health, mapping out nearly 500 projects of global health organizations in Washington in 92 countries with 587 unique partners.

The two maps are based on data from nine local organizations and will be expanded in the future to include others.

This map shows where local organizations currently have projects.

This map shows where Seattle organizations have offices and labs.

Produced by the Washington Global Health Alliance, the maps are designed to help local organizations discover potential collaborations and shared facilities, and showcase global health as a powerful and emerging sector in the region.

"Everybody recognizes that to address these issues, the more information the better and the fewer barriers the better," said Lisa Cohen, founding director of the alliance.

Alliance members include Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Institute for Systems Biology, PATH, Public Health - Seattle & King County, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, Seattle Children's Hospital Global Alliance for the Prevention of Prematurity and Stillbirth, the University of Washington, Washington State University and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation is not included in the tally because the study focuses on organizations doing work in the field, not those funding them.

Many of the founding members of the alliance have doubled in size over the past five to seven years. Global health organizations expanding in South Lake Union are redefining the area beyond the original life-sciences cluster.

The alliance can help state businesses and non-profits get connected to opportunities in places where global health projects have paved the way, such as China and India, Cohen said.

Through the alliance, local health authorities hope to apply methods used in global health projects to improve health of people here in the Seattle area.

"A lot of people think global health is over there and doesn't have relevance here," Cohen said, but the H1N1 pandemic has made the links clear.

Community health workers, for example, have been vital to programs internationally, bringing medicine and information about prenatal care and disease prevention to people in rural areas. Such a model could work here, especially in South King County, where workers with language and cultural skills could help train diverse populations living below the poverty line who are unfamiliar with the health system, Cohen said.

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