Bill Foege: Another mountain to climb  pg. 3

Foege is familiar with the criticisms leveled against the program, that its technology-based solutions might suck money from less sophisticated public health measures, like basic sanitation projects, and that it fails to account for the broader, cultural and economic factors that contribute to poor health.

Photo of a child with smallpox taken in 1975 by Stanley Foster, M.D., a member of the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service, for the Global Smallpox Eradication Campaign.
Photo courtesy of the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
It can only do so much, he argues. A nonprofit organization, no matter who runs it, cannot fill in for the government, which is ultimately responsible for public health—including the control of potential pandemics like avian flu.

“The Grand Challenges program is looking at the problems that poor people face that aren’t being addressed by the U.N. or other agencies,” he explains.

Standing 6-feet, 7-inches tall, Foege walks with long, determined strides. He walks with purpose. Give Schaffner vignette about height. Around the Gates Foundation, he’s known for his warmth and humor: he addresses everyone by name and asks about his or her families.

“It’s his thoughtfulness that makes him a special leader and mentor,” says Jeffrey Koplan, M.D., MPH, who succeeded Foege as CDC director in 1998 and who currently is vice president for academic health affairs at Emory University’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center.

“I’ve met many people who are concerned about people in the abstract or as amorphous groups,” Koplan says. “Bill cares about every individual he meets, but he also can see the individuals in groups and populations. He cares about those he’s never met and those yet to be born.”

Foege’s journey to the top echelon of global health began as a boy in tiny Colville, Wash., when he first read Albert Schweitzer’s autobiography, The Primeval Forest. He felt drawn to Africa, and to medicine.

While attending medical school at the University of Washington in Seattle, Foege worked at the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health under Reimert Ravenholt, M.D., MPH.

Ravenholt, who later directed the global population program at the U.S. Agency for International Development, “quite deliberately converted me to the joys of global health,” Foege says.

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