Bill Foege: Another mountain to climb  pg. 6

A good challenge

Foege succeeded David Sencer, M.D., MPH, as CDC director in 1977. During his tenure he broadened the agency’s international activities to deal with health crises like deadly hemorrhagic fever—Ebola—in Central Africa, and oversaw the high-profile investigation of toxic shock syndrome in the United States.

Then, in 1981, young gay men and IV drug users started dying from a rare pneumonia. By the end of 1982, even before the virus that causes AIDS was identified, Foege, Curran and their CDC colleagues had determined that the disease could be spread through blood and body secretions.

In 1984, after President Ronald Reagan appointed James Mason, M.D., as the new CDC director, Foege and several colleagues formed the Task Force for Child Survival and Development, a collaboration of the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Foege served as executive director of the task force, which aimed for nothing less than universal immunization of children. During his six-year term, the proportion of children around the world who received basic vaccinations quadrupled—from 20 percent to almost 80 percent.

Former President Jimmy Carter later recruited Foege to become executive director of the Carter Center and its Global 2000 program, which, among other projects, sought to eliminate “river blindness,” a parasitic disease that is a major cause of blindness in Africa.

About seven years ago, Foege was teaching international health in Emory University when he was asked to advise the Gates Foundation’s Global Health program.

Before taking the job, Foege drove to Plains, Ga., to talk with Jimmy and Rosalind Carter. He had remained close to them, and he wanted to see what they thought.

“I never entertained the idea that a rich person would be interested in public health,” Foege recalls. “I never thought it would be the richest man in the world or that he would be emotionally invested in public health.”

He did know there was enthusiasm and energy at the Gates Foundation, and that there was real potential to transform global health. The Carters agreed.

Foege has received a sheaf of awards for his achievements: among them the World Health Organization's Health for All Medal; the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Support of Medical Research and Health Sciences; and the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.

Photo by Brian Smale
Foege rarely mentions them. That’s not why he did the work. That’s not what inspires him.

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