PATH: 40 years of innovation and impact

February 6, 2017 by PATH

PATH’s three cofounders with two motorocycles.

PATH’s three cofounders, shown in Southeast Asia in the 1970s, brought entrepreneurial spirit, scientific expertise, and on-the-ground experience to our early work in family planning—qualities that remain part of PATH’s DNA today. Photo: PATH archives

From our earliest days, PATH has redefined what is possible in global health.

A memo showed up on Richard Mahoney’s desk in 1973 at the Ford Foundation’s New York headquarters with a mouthful of a title: “Contraceptive introduction, manufacture, and supply.”

It was a clarion call about the promise of modern family planning methods to transform health—and a challenge to family planning experts to improve access to affordable, high-quality contraceptives in low-resource countries.

The memo’s author was Gordon Perkin, Mahoney’s colleague based in the foundation’s Brazil field office.

“I picked up the phone, and I called Brazil,” Mahoney recalls, “even though in those days it cost US$100 every five minutes to make an international call. And I said, ‘Gordon, let’s do it. I’m ready. Whatever you need, I’ll do it.’”

That phone call paved the way for a new kind of health organization—one that would bring together the expertise and resources of both the public and private sectors to ensure everyone had access to lifesaving health solutions, regardless of where they live.

Four years later, Mahoney, Perkin, and Gordon Duncan, all family planning researchers, founded the nonprofit organization that would become PATH.

Four decades of accelerating innovation to save lives

This year, we are celebrating our 40th anniversary as an international NGO (or nongovernmental organization) known for transforming bold ideas into breakthrough health solutions for people around the world.

Today, we work in more than 70 countries and reach an average of 150 million people a year. From our earliest days working in reproductive health and family planning, PATH quickly expanded to work on vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, and system and service innovations that address every major global health challenge.

PATH’s start-up culture

From the beginning, we were unlike any other global health organization—a unique blend of entrepreneurial spirit, scientific expertise, and deep experience in the countries we serve.

Our focus, then and now, is to work in partnership with the countries we serve and bring together cross-sector, cross-disciplinary collaborators to get health solutions to more people more quickly.

“Any idea was accepted, and any idea could be tried,” Mahoney says. “I am often reminded of that culture when I read about the culture of the tech start-ups in Silicon Valley. How people were just totally devoted to trying to make something work.”

“You spend hours and hours thinking about what to do, and it’s a seven-day-a-week enterprise, and there’s lots of fun and laughter,” he says. “We were great optimists, all of us, and we just felt that this would work. That family planning had to work.”

Impact reaching 150 million people per year

That early drive to innovate and improve the lives of the most vulnerable remains today. From three founders in 1977, PATH has grown to 1,500 people around the globe. Our focus is on working with governments, private companies, advocates, and communities to bring lifesaving innovation to massive scale. Join us for a photo tour through some of PATH’s most impactful milestones of the past 40 years.

Expanding family planning options in China

Peggy Morrow, one of PATH's first employees, stands at a podium surrounded by factory workers in China.

Peggy Morrow, PATH’s first full-time employee, participates in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a Chinese contraceptive manufacturing facility in the early 1980s. Photo: PATH archives

Uniject in the pocket: a disposable, prefilled injection device



In this video, PATH cofounder Gordon Perkin talks about the development of the Uniject™ injection system. Video: PATH.

Vaccine vial monitor: a leap from the food to the health industry

Lab workers in Indonesia examining vaccines that utilize vaccine vial monitors.

In the 1980s PATH developed the vaccine vial monitor. The purple sticker tracks heat exposure of individual vaccine vials so health workers can see if a vaccine is still potent. Over 6 billion have now been used globally. Photo: PATH/Umit Kartoglu

Introducing a new way to get vaccines to newborns

Health worker immunizing infant with Uniject; mother holding infant.

In the 1980s, PATH partnered with the Indonesian government to develop a system for delivering the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine. This system is now used nationwide in Indonesia to ensure newborns receive the vaccine. Photo: PATH/Carib Nelson.

Rapid diagnostic tests revolutionize treatment in remote or low-resource settings

Tala de los Santos looks at onchocerciasis (river blindness) diagnostic tests.

PATH has been at the forefront of developing simple, low-cost diagnostic tools that allow health care providers to diagnose and treat a disease at the point of care in rural and urban low-resource settings. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Bringing hope to turn cervical cancer into a preventable disease

Adolescent girls, students in Nakasongola Primary School.

PATH started work on cervical cancer in the early 1990s and has led efforts and research on the introduction of new vaccines against the human papillomavirus (HPV)—the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

Micronutrients pack a powerful punch in Ultra Rice

Four children sit in a doorway eating from metal containers.

Since the 1990s PATH has played a catalytic role in improving the nutritional value of rice through our Ultra Rice® fortification technology. Today, we are working to expand access to fortified rice to millions of children. Photo: PATH/Minzayar.

MenAfriVac: a vaccine spans continents to save millions of lives

Female child, Oceane, holding a cotton ball to her arm after receiving a vaccine. Launch of MenAfriVac

PATH led a partnership that developed The MenAfriVac® vaccine quickly and affordably, reaching over 262 million Africans and leading to the virtual disappearance of deadly meningitis A across large stretches of Africa. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

A sure start for mothers and newborns in India

Two women in saris smile for the camera, one holding an over-the-shoulder bag with health supplies and the other holding an instructional poster.

PATH’s Sure Start project reached 24.5 million people in India with lifesaving information and support to improve the health of mothers and newborns. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Japanese encephalitis: a scourge is stopped through vaccination

A family with their vaccination cards at the JE vaccination campaign in Khon Kahndone Village, Xieng Khouang province, Laos.

For more than a decade, PATH worked with partners to develop an affordable vaccine against incurable and deadly Japanese encephalitis. These efforts have reached over 232 million people, mostly children, across Southeast Asia. Photo: PATH/Aaron Joel Santo

Malaria elimination within our reach

A malaria case investigator holding a cellular telephone to submit data he has collected.

In Zambia, PATH is partnering with Tableau and a number of technology companies to give frontline health workers the tools to track and treat malaria cases and make data-informed decisions to address outbreaks. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Country programs are locally led for the greatest impact

A large group of people gather outside.

Roughly 60 percent of PATH staff work in the countries we serve, and more than 95 percent of our in-country staff are from the country they work in. Here, PATH’s country program leaders gather in South Africa in June 2016. Photo: PATH

Sayana Press puts the power in women’s hands

A woman holds a unit of Sayana Press in her hand.

Sayana® Press is an all-in-one injectable contraceptive created and championed by PATH and our partners that puts women in charge of their reproductive health. Nearly one-half million doses have been administered so far. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

In many ways, the Sayana Press story is emblematic of PATH’s journey from a small, scrappy start-up to the innovative global organization we are today. Starting from the problem statement that 290 million women around the world want access to modern family planning tools, PATH worked with partners to combine a long-lasting contraceptive with the safe and simple Uniject injection system we developed with partners in our early days.

The technology also illustrates many of the qualities that make PATH unique: our cross-sector partnerships, our ingenuity and persistence, our focus on end-to-end innovation, and our enduring commitment to improving health and saving lives of women and children.

We’ve been leading global health innovation for 40 years now, and our drive to continue serving the people of the world has only grown stronger. Here’s to another 40 years!

Uniject is a trademark of BD.

Ultra Rice is a registered US trademark of Bon Dente International, Inc.

MenAfriVac is a registered trademark of Serum Institute of India Pvt. Ltd.

Sayana Press is a registered trademark of Pfizer Inc.