HealthBridge (formerly PATH Canada) has been working since 1982 in Asia, Africa and the Americas. In the early years it undertook research and identified technologies and products that would improve contraception and health care in developing countries.
Since then, HealthBridge has evolved into an agile and efficient organization that aims to improve the health of vulnerable populations, including those at risk of malnutrition, infectious disease (particularly malaria and HIV/AIDS) and emerging epidemics, such as non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
HealthBridge is known for undertaking pioneering research, identifying and deftly addressing critical gaps in achieving health and health equity in the developing world, working effectively with local partners to bring about change in policy, and bridging the gap between service provider and service user.
HealthBridge's history spans more than a quarter of a century, and the organization looks quite different today compared to when it began.
In 1976 a new US organization called PIACT (Program for Introduction and Adaptation of Contraceptive Technology) was formed. PIACT's mission was focused on providing safe and affordable contraceptive technology to developing countries.
Three years later, PIACT added a health division called PATH – Program for Appropriate Technology in Health. PATH was based in Seattle, and affiliates were established in Mexico, Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
PATH's Executive Director, a Canadian named Dr. Gordon Perkins, met with the Clifford Lee Foundation in Edmonton in 1980, and there agreed to the creation of PATH Canada. The process was complete by 1981. The newly-established PATH Canada had the following goals:
- To improve the availability, effectiveness, safety, consumer acceptance and continued use of contraceptive and health products in developing countries;
- To identify, develop, or adapt technologies and products that will improve the availability of primary health care;
- To disseminate the results of studies, and distribute scientific and technical data on appropriate health technology.
PATH Canada's early work in health products and technologies took on new contours and deepened by the mid-1990s under its second Executive Director, Tim Stone, when the organization's reputation as an independent and pioneering body grew. Important new work in the area of food and nutrition, and an emerging focus on encouraging men in gender and reproductive health issues, gave definition to PATH Canada's evolving programs. The organization was shaken by Tim's tragic death in an African airplane hijacking in 1996, but the foundations were strong, and the staff and board of directors were committed.
Small and nimble
After Sian FitzGerald took on the role of Executive Director in 1997, PATH Canada continued to strengthen those foundations and to define its contributions in key program areas.
The organization quickly secured a style and method of working which has continued to the present day:
- A small, knowledgeable and effective global staff team;
- An organizational framework which is strategic and unencumbered by bureaucracy;
- An approach to addressing key gaps in health equity and programming around the globe, based solidly on research, development and action;
- A pattern of identifying and working with effective local partners who can deliver programs and affect local policy;
- A focus on identifying key policy inputs to influence elements of global health and development.
Throughout its life, the organization has worked with local partners in the countries where it operates while also maintaining a small core staff at its headquarters in Ottawa, and in Asia. A Vietnam office provides a strong program base for HealthBridge's work in the region.
Many of the men and women who make up HealthBridge's Board of Directors are leaders in their technical area of expertise, and all bring connections to the NGO community, international health, government and the corporate community. Together these individuals help to extend the organization's profile and reach, and provide guidance on its mission and core activities.
The program areas addressed by HealthBridge have grown over the years to encompass:
- Tobacco Control & NCD Prevention
- Health, Nutrition & Food Security
- Gender Equality, Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, and
- Livable Cities
New projects and programs have developed in response to emerging needs in new areas and are implemented after careful analysis by staff and Board. The wealth of documented research, knowledge and progress presented in the organization's reports, publications and other communications, together paint a picture of integration, innovation and advancement.
In 2006, as the organization prepared for its 25th anniversary, it paused to rebrand itself so that its primary audiences and others around the world would more easily recognize its niche and contributions. The name HealthBridge Foundation of Canada, and the arcing bridge of its new logo, were adopted to better reflect the organization's work to bridge gaps and improve health around the world.
Bridging the gap
The work of HealthBridge is symbolized by simple and potent images:
- a bicycle, a symbol of healthy living and green transportation options;
- an iron cooking pot, a simple tool for delivering micronutrients to vulnerable populations;
- a mosquito net, for protecting families from the ravages of malaria;
- a breastfeeding baby, showing a simple path to good nutrition.
These images represent simple existing tools which have been given new life and meaning by HealthBridge's research, development and programming, and made more accessible by its work with local policy makers and advocates. They represent the bridges used to effectively address key gaps in health policy and services affecting the lives of millions in developing countries.
Today HealthBridge continues to build on its past work and success as it moves forward to address new or persistent health issues where it can have the greatest impact.
Increasingly, integration and cross-pollination of its program is occurring, as HealthBridge weaves a nutrition focus into agriculture interventions, modeling an ecosystems health approach to improving the wellbeing of local people, and continues to address a panoply of related issues through its Livable Cities program.