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Originally published November 17, 2009 at 10:59 PM | Page modified November 18, 2009 at 12:46 AM

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Mapping state's role in global health

A local alliance is mapping out the global health work of Washington organizations, showing the extensive role the region plays in the field.

Seattle Times business reporter

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.

Now 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, so far mapping out nearly 500 projects of global health organizations in Washington in 92 countries with 587 unique partners.

The map, produced by the Washington Global Health Alliance, is 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, executive director of the alliance.

The alliance's 26 members include the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, PATH, Public Health — Seattle & King County, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, the University of Washington, Washington State University and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation is not included in the mapping study because it focuses on organizations doing work in the field. The map is based on data from nine organizations and will be expanded in the future to include others, Cohen said.

The region is becoming an important center for global health, which is expanding in South Lake Union beyond its original life-sciences cluster. Many of the founding members of the alliance have doubled in size over the past five to seven years.

Mapping the network also could help state businesses and nonprofits 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 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 preventing disease 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.

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or kheim@seattletimes.com

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