Column: Task Force expanding global health mission

By Maria Saporta
Friday, April 15, 2011

In the coming decade, it is possible that several devastating diseases could be close to being eliminated — such as polio, blinding trachoma, river blindness and measles.

A common denominator in those efforts is a relatively unknown Decatur-based nonprofit — the Task Force for Global Health.

The Task Force was founded in 1984 by global health leader William Foege as a way to get different, and sometimes competing, organizations working together on a common goal to immunize children.

Today, the Task Force is one of the most effective and collaborative global health organizations working in the poorest countries in the world.

Case in point: In its 2007 fiscal year, the Task Force received and distributed $45 million in in-kind contributions of drugs and medical supplies in the world. In its 2010 fiscal year, its in-kind contributions totaled $1.1 billion. And that number is expected to total $1.8 billion during this fiscal year.

Thanks to such growth, the Task Force will break ground April 18 on an expansion of its modest headquarters along Swanton Way in downtown Decatur.

The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation is contributing $750,000 of the $2.5 million construction costs so the expansion can open by the end of the year. The Task Force bought the building in 2007, and the Woodruff Foundation contributed $500,000 at the time to help renovate the former government building.

“The Woodruff Foundation doesn’t generally provide support for international efforts, but the presence of a remarkable organization like the Task Force right here in Decatur gives us an opportunity to support an organization that has an impact all over the world,” said Russ Hardin, president of the Woodruff Foundation. “We also are helping to support the public health infrastructure that is a very important part of the Atlanta economy.”

The Task Force works primarily behind the scenes with other organizations — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Carter Center; CARE; Emory; the Morehouse School of Medicine and others.

“We try to remain in the background,” said Mark Rosenberg, president and CEO of the Task Force. “Bill Foege said we should shine the light on our partners — and they absolutely do deserve that credit.”

Rosenberg joined the Task Force in 1999 after working with Foege at the CDC.
“He’s been a mentor and a guide and an inspiration for me and everyone here,” Rosenberg said of Foege, who also worked at the Carter Center and the Gates Foundation.

When Rosenberg details the Task Force’s projects, it’s mind-boggling. Many involve diseases that are virtually unknown in the United States, and many can be treated or cured with commonplace drugs.

In 1987, a drug manufactured by Merck to protect animals from parasites was found to also prevent onchocerciasis, also known as “river blindness.” Merck pledged to provide as much of that drug — Mectizan — as was needed for as long as it was needed. That has led to the distribution of more than 800 million treatments of Mectizan since 1987.

Other major pharmaceutical companies have since followed Merck’s lead — GSK, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer — contributing billions of dollars worth of drugs.
The Task Force has experienced tremendous growth since 2007. Its workforce has grown from 38 to 67; and its cash program expenses have gone from $8.4 million to a projected $35 million this year.

“We are very fortunate to be in this period of growth during economically hard times,” Rosenberg said. “A grant from the Woodruff Foundation means a lot to us. It’s very affirming that people understand who we are and what we do.”

Distinguished entrepreneur

The MIT Enterprise Forum of Atlanta has named its annual Distinguished Entrepreneur Award in honor of the late E. Milton Bevington, who held 37 volunteer roles as an alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Bevington founded Servidyne Inc., an Atlanta-based energy engineering company. Paula Bevington, his widow, described him as “a serial entrepreneur.”

The MIT Enterprise Forum awarded Alana Shepherd, co-founder of the Shepherd Center, the award on the evening of April 12 at an event at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Alana Shepherd and her family founded the center, which went from a six-bed hospital in 1975 to a multidisciplinary center of 132 beds today — treating spinal cord injuries, brain trauma and patients with multiple sclerosis.

“The choice of Alana is just perfect,” Paula Bevington said. “It’s a strong statement that the nonprofit sector requires business skills as acute, perhaps more so, as the for-profit.”

She also said her husband would have been proud that it was the first time the award has been given to a woman. Previous winners have included Pete Petit, founder and CEO of Matria Healthcare; Cam Lanier, president of ITC Holding Co.; and Glen Robinson, founder of Scientific-Atlanta.

Turner to get service award

Ted Turner will receive this year’s Boisfueillet Jones Award at the upcoming 11Alive Community Service Awards dinner April 19 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.

Proceeds will benefit Emory University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

Previous winners have included Home Depot co-founders Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus for their philanthropic contributions; retired Georgia-Pacific CEO Pete Correll and Alana Shepherd of the Shepherd Center.

MARTA appreciated

MARTA was the topic at the Commerce Club’s board meeting on April 7 with a presentation from the agency’s chairman, Jim Durrett.

At least two club directors — Ben Johnson of Alston & Bird and John Somerhalder of AGL Resources Inc. — rode MARTA to the meeting.

“I appreciate MARTA every time I ride MARTA,” Somerhalder said. “And I appreciate MARTA when I’m driving because there are fewer cars on the road.”

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