PATH leader takes key Gates Foundation job
Nobody knows the link between health and a country's overall development better than Christopher Elias, a doctor and health-technologies...
Seattle Times health reporter
Nobody knows the link between health and a country's overall development better than Christopher Elias, a doctor and health-technologies expert named Monday as president of the global-development program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
For more than a decade, Elias, 54, has headed PATH, the Seattle-based international nonprofit that focuses on technology and health and is a major recipient of Gates Foundation grants.
His selection comes as the Gates Foundation shifts several key areas, moving family health and vaccine delivery out of its global-health program and into the global-development program Elias will head.
"We are very pleased that Chris is joining the foundation to lead our global development work," foundation co-Chairman Bill Gates said in a statement. "His leadership at PATH and long history in health and development will enhance our ability to deliver innovative solutions to some of the world's biggest challenges."
Some of PATH'S work, Elias said, has brought the connections between health and development into sharp focus for him.
For example: PATH, which helped develop a vaccine against meningitis, found that the average family in the West African country of Burkina Faso spends $90 when a family member falls sick from meningitis. That's the equivalent of three to four months' income there.
"We know from some of our work at PATH that in fragile economic environments, one of the things that pushes people into poverty the most is disease," Elias said.
"Poor health causes poor economic development, and poor economic development leads to poor health. These are highly interlinked things."
His work at PATH also helped him realize that brilliant technological innovations don't do any good if they sit on the shelf.
In his new job, Elias said, he will focus on "innovative, integrated delivery systems" that will help bring the benefits of science and technology developed by PATH and other foundation partners to some of the world's poorest people.
"The opportunity to help bring these considerable innovations into broad public-health impact at scale seemed like the right thing to do as the next step," said Elias, who will move to the foundation Feb. 1. "I'm very excited to be joining the foundation."
Of the foundation's three major programs, two have new leaders.
Dr. Trevor Mundel, global head of development at pharmaceutical company Novartis Pharma, will take over this month as head of the global-health program. That program, which has received the lion's share of foundation funding to date, will continue to lead efforts against tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, malaria and other diseases.
Jeff Raikes, chief executive of the foundation, said the realignment shouldn't be seen as putting all product development under global health and all implementation under global development.
"The key thing is to tap into the expertise of two terrific leaders," Raikes said. "I told the employees this morning: We're not organizing around product development vs. implementation."
Raikes said moving family health and vaccine delivery to the global-development program helps align the needs of those areas with Elias' expertise.
"What I feel like I've been able to assemble, with the help of Chris and Trevor and many others, is a world-class team that thinks through the combination of work that we need to do to succeed," Raikes said. Both family health and vaccines, he said, depend on "innovative and integrated delivery."
As president and chief executive of PATH, Elias shepherded the organization though an era of great growth and accomplishment.
When he joined the nonprofit in 2000, it had a budget of $44 million and a staff of 297.
Now, in part thanks to a Gates Foundation grant of nearly $169 million to help expand the efforts for a successful malaria vaccine, the organization boasts an annual budget of $295 million and more than 1,100 staff members, according to PATH's account.
Under Elias' leadership, the organization counted successes in such low-cost, high-impact realms as an affordable meningitis vaccine and better systems for malaria bednet distribution, as well as prevention and treatment of diarrheal disease.
Elias said he has had a strong interest in women's health and vaccines, including reproductive health and family planning. At PATH, he counts among his successes the ability to both manage and grow a complex organization whose success depends on entrepreneurial teams that need not only guidance, he said, but a "fair bit of autonomy."
Jacqueline Sherris, vice president of global programs, said PATH was strong and would continue building its programs. Still, she added, she and others were sad to see Elias leave.
"I'm sure this decision wasn't easy for him," Sherris said. "He knows many of the leadership personally, has hired them and worked with them. But I think it's a great opportunity for him and to some extent, a logical one, to contribute on the global scene."
Not only is he bright and knowledgeable, she said, he has worked among the poor, in Myanmar and Thailand, so "he knows who our customers are." He also is well-connected with global-health leaders internationally in governments and nonprofits, she said.
Elias has a "nice, casual manner," she said. "He must have an ego, because he has a lot of skills. But he keeps his ego well in check, and he's a good person to work with. ... The foundation and all the people who work with him are going to really enjoy that experience."
Before joining PATH, Elias held positions at the Population Council, including serving as the organization's country representative in Thailand, managing reproductive-health programs in Southeast Asia.
He received his medical degree from Creighton University, a Catholic Jesuit university in Omaha, Neb., and earned a master's degree in public health from the University of Washington, where he was a fellow in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program.
"I had a great gig at PATH," Elias said.
Dr. Molly Joel Coye, chairwoman of PATH's board of directors, will lead a search for his successor, PATH spokeswoman Amy MacIver said.
The former head of global development at the Gates Foundation, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, recently was named to head the Walmart Foundation.
Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249
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