I must be getting old. Or at least not nearly as dangerous a journalist as I’d like to think I am.
I was recently invited to a small, private gathering at Dr. Gordon Perkin’s Seattle home to celebrate his being awarded the Order of Canada. Perkin, one of the founders of PATH some three decades ago and the first head of global health for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is also Canadian. The Order of Canada is our sister nation to the north’s highest civilian honor.
Perkin was recognized for his life-long devotion to improving the health of those living in the poorest parts of the planet, first by helping launch PATH and then by helping launch the world’s biggest philanthropy’s primary aim – improving the health of millions in poor countries. The Gates Foundation’s influence in matters of global health is hard to measure, but I would put it in the same gorilla cage as the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Bono.
Attending Perkin’s party were Bill Gates Sr., his wife Mimi and Dr. Bill Foege as well as other equally devoted colleagues working at making the world a better place. I felt out of place since my work as a journalist seldom seems to make anything better, but I guess a story I wrote many years ago (from the first PI series on Gates Foundation) helped Gordon get the recognition he deserves.
The party at Perkin’s reminded me of just how amazing was the start of the Gates Foundation more than a decade ago – and how much it has changed since. Back when Bill Sr., Perkin and Foege were making the big decisions, the foundation took some huge risks and bold steps. They were quite transparent and willing to challenge the status quo. The philanthropy was still the new kid on the global health block, open-faced and eager to affect positive change.
I think I can say without risk of too much argument that the biggest thing the Gates Foundation has done for global health remains an idea hatched back when these three old guys were in charge – GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. Though GAVI seldom gets the attention of sexier health projects or diseases, this project has so far prevented 4 million deaths by getting vaccines out to children in poor countries GAVI.
Perkin’s leadership, working in close concert with Bill Sr. and Foege, had a lot to do with making that happen. Hats off to the three old amigos!