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PATH raises $550,000 aimed at catalyzing health projects
Posted by Kristi Heim
It wasn't the parking garage, but there were plenty of catalytic converters.
For PATH, a Seattle non-profit focused on global health threats such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, Tuesday's annual breakfast to raise money and showcase its work marked a turning point for an organization that had outgrown its Ballard digs and parking garage fundraisers.
Now one of the best funded global health non-profits in the world, PATH brought in more than $550,000 as 776 people attended the event at the Bell Harbor Conference Center turned Africa-themed pavilion. That exceeded last year's total when supporters gathered inside PATH's parking garage and donated more than $525,000.
The event also produced 24 new "Catalyst Circle" members, who pledged at least $1,000 a year for five years, and one new $25,000 donor. The money is used to jump start experimental projects that don't have funding from larger grants.
Its growing ambition is evident at the organization's new headquarters inside a gleaming South Lake Union office tower.
"The world is entering a pivotal time," PATH CEO Chris Elias and Chair Molly Joel Coye write in a letter preceding the 2009 annual report. "Never before have we seen such tremendous political and financial support." And along with that support come expectations that are higher than ever, too.
PATH has made big bets on what could be the first malaria vaccine, a redesigned female condom, a fortified pasta called Ultra Rice to boost nutrition and a "one size fits most" diaphragm, among other projects.
About 10,000 children are now enrolled in malaria vaccine trials under PATH's Malaria Vaccine Initiative. The PATH Woman's Condom is also in final regulatory studies to pave the way for FDA approval. Ultra Rice is being introduced into school lunch programs in India and other countries.
And yet some health problems are so challenging they defy any single solution. PATH Kenya program officer June Omollo told the story of her adopted daughter Poline, who died last year at the age of 18.
Poline's mother killed herself when she found out she had HIV. Her father died of AIDS several months later, but not before he raped 12-year-old Poline, infecting her with the virus.
She became an outcast and the virus went undetected until it made her so thin and weak she couldn't lift her shoes. Her teacher contacted Omollo, who took Poline under her wing. With the right medicine she became healthier, attended school and taught a youth group at her church. Despite her incredible progress, she contracted tuberculosis, and her compromised immune system couldn't survive it. She died in the hospital with her school exams on the table, Omollo said.
"I lost a person that inspired me a lot in life," she said. "She made me realize there's so much in life that you can give to someone."
HIV/AIDS and TB are preventable and manageable, so no child should die of them, she said.
For other girls, teenage pregnancy is practically a death sentence. A 15-year-old girl named Eunice who became pregnant was asked to leave school and then forced to leave home. Without job skills or family support, such vulnerable girls often turn to selling their bodies to buy food and eventually contract HIV, Omollo said.
Eunice's parents got in touch with one of PATH's peer support programs, which help families overcome their aversion to talking openly about issues like sex, pregnancy and HIV, and teach problem-solving. Over time, they changed their attitude and asked their daughter to come home, she said.
"We cry with communities, we sing with them, we eat with them and have them reflect on their own situation so they can overcome their own problems," Omollo said.
Many young girls in places like Kenya face an almost impossible burden, one that's very hard to solve if they're abused by their own families and shunned by their schools and communities.
In that broader sense, effective solutions often mean new ideas and approaches that address the cultural, political and economic problems threatening health.
Perhaps this complexity is one reason why speakers at PATH's annual event didn't talk a lot about technology. In fact, I hardly heard the word mentioned. Elias called the group's vision "health within reach through innovation."
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