The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s recent gift for construction of a population-health facility will greatly advance the interdisciplinary and collaborative work of our faculty members, students, partners and collaborators across the UW, the region and the world.
TOO often, where we live determines how long we live. In King County alone, data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show there can be up to a 15-year difference in life expectancy based on our neighborhoods. This is unacceptable, and we reject the notion that a region with our robust economy and resources should have such disparities.
While indignation may be a start, it is not a strategy, which is why the University of Washington convened the groundbreaking Population Health Initiative earlier this year. Our goal? To create a shared, 25-year vision that leads the way for improving the health and well-being of communities — not just here in King County, but around the world.
Health is about much more than just the absence of disease. Indeed, it is a state of holistic physical, mental and social well-being. When thinking of health, we must consider the influence of other intersecting and overlapping factors, including climate change, poverty, racism, urban planning and governance. Doctors, nurses and other health professionals alone cannot make us completely healthy.
This broad approach, which we define as population health, seeks to understand and improve all of the factors that contribute to health and well-being. Collectively, these issues revolve around three major pillars: human health, environmental resiliency and social and economic equity. The factors affect billions of lives around the world.
The Pacific Northwest has the resources, expertise and capabilities to advance the cause of population health. Our state is home to more than 160 organizations working on population and global health. Our university is home to academic strengths across the population-health spectrum. Add to that mix the UW’s global partnerships, and we have a powerful incubator for life-changing interventions and innovations.
As a major step in fulfilling our 25-year vision, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently made a transformational commitment — $210 million — to fund the construction of a new population-health facility on our Seattle campus. This tremendous gift will greatly advance the interdisciplinary and collaborative work of our faculty members, students, partners and collaborators across the UW, the region and the world.
Our next steps are many. From creating a shared vision, to growing and strengthening partnerships, to engaging more closely with communities here and around the world: Much more needs to be done to successfully amplify our local and global impact on population health.
We will seek to foster the next generation of leaders, thinkers and doers in population health by developing collaborative and innovative education opportunities. We will expand and strengthen our abilities and partnerships in data science to help improve our understanding of the world’s most pressing health needs.
To develop and test innovations, we will help deliver the interventions, processes and tools that will lead to improved population health — tools like the NIFTY cup, a small feeding cup invented through a collaboration among UW, PATH and Seattle Children’s that can deliver milk to infants with cleft palates at a cost of just $1 each cup. By following a comprehensive scientific approach to asking and answering questions, we will deliver effective interventions to people around the world with greater speed, quality and efficiency.
Finally, by offering evidence, tools and decision-making support, we will be able to empower our local, national and international partners in government, nonprofits and industries to make choices that benefit the most people in the most efficient ways possible, much like our work with the city of Seattle to evaluate the impact of the $15 minimum wage.
At the UW, we believe improving population health is a moral imperative that can dramatically help reduce disparities in life expectancy. But we cannot do it alone. By working together, our region can lead the way in ensuring that every individual — whether he or she lives here in King County or elsewhere in the world — has the chance for a truly boundless future.