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Exhibit highlights Seattle area's lead role in global-health advances
A new global-health exhibit opens Tuesday at Seattle Center to highlight what Seattle-area institutions are doing to combat disease and improve the health of people around the world.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Seattle area is full of institutions working on the problems of global health: fighting malaria, delivering vaccines, making childbirth safer and combating diseases like dengue fever.
Tuesday, a new exhibit highlighting these contributions will open in the Next 50 Plaza at Seattle Center.
The free exhibit, called "Global Health Experience," is built around the stories of four people in developing countries who have benefited from medical advances in the Seattle area: Aisha, a Ugandan girl whose mother faces cervical cancer; Ishmael, a Honduran man with diabetes; Wande, a woman in Tanzania whose daughter contracts malaria; and Archana, an expectant mother in India.
It runs through Aug. 19.
The exhibit was organized by the Washington Global Health Alliance, an umbrella group of organizations and companies in the Seattle area focused on global health. Their numbers have mushroomed in recent decades as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — which is helping to pay for the exhibit — poured money into global health.
"We have this astounding concentration of global-health institutions and expertise here — probably the greatest concentration in the world," said Lisa Cohen, the alliance's executive director.
The exhibit is divided into four "life lanes" that tell the stories of Aisha, Ishmael, Wande and Archana. Visitors use iPod Shuffles loaded with audio recordings that narrate the life lanes — twisting corridors that feature maps, charts and reconstructions of the huts and clinics in places like India and Africa.
Aisha's life lane, for instance, chronicles her mother's battle with HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer. "In Uganda, girls like Aisha face a 1-in-42 chance of dying from cervical cancer," a narrator says. "That's eight times greater than the risk to women in the United States."
The HPV vaccine, the narrator continues, is unaffordable for most Ugandans. But PATH, a Seattle-based humanitarian organization, has spearheaded an effort to vaccinate more Ugandan girls.
The exhibit also features a number of innovations developed by institutions in the Seattle area. One of the more interesting is the TrapNKill Lethal Ovitrap — an unlikely name for a device intended to save lives.
Originally developed by the U.S. Army, TrapNKill is designed to attract mosquitoes carrying the dengue-fever virus.
"It looks like a coffee cup, basically," said James Campbell, a spokesman for SpringStar, the Woodinville-based company that manufactures the device. Once mosquitoes land in the cup, they absorb a toxin that kills them.
Some of the innovations on view give a sense of how global-health technologies have evolved over the years. PATH, for instance, first developed the SoloShot self-disabling syringe in the 1980s. The organization, based at South Lake Union, is developing ways to deliver vaccines that don't use needles, including fast-dissolving tablets and gels that patients take by putting them under their tongues.
Seattle's status as a hub of global-health research has proved helpful, said Elain Fu, an assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington, who has worked on the "Lab on a Chip," one of the featured innovations.
"It's really kind of a hotbed of activity," she said.
The exhibit, which is part of the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Seattle World's Fair, found an unlikely champion early on in Bob Aylward, executive vice president of business operations for the Seattle Mariners.
In 2008, Aylward recalled, he attended a retreat hosted by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce with a theme of global health. He found himself fascinated with the field and lobbied to have global health play a part in the World's Fair anniversary events.
Aylward said he hopes the exhibit will generate "a raised awareness of just what a significant player our region is in global health and life sciences."
"It helps the world, but it also helps us here locally," Aylward he added. "It's a win-win kind of thing."
Theodoric Meyer: 206-464-2168 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @theodoricmeyer.
Information in this article, originally published July 2, 2012, was corrected July 3, 2012. A previous version of this story misstated the ending date for the exhibit.