Column: Atlanta groups to spearhead Gates-funded effort to save kids

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on August 14, 2015

Several Atlanta public health organizations are leading an effort sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to curb infant mortality around the world.

Gates is funding the initiative – Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) – with a $75 million grant for the first three years. The intention is for the program to be in place for 20 years. As it steps up its operations around the world, it is estimated that it could cost about $50 million a year. That would total $1 billion – as large a gift as the Gates have ever made.

Emory University’s Global Health Institute will be the lead partner of the initiative. Other Atlanta partners include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Public Health Informatics Institute, which is part of the Task Force for Global Health.

Jeff Koplan, vice president of global health and the founder of Emory’s Global Health Institute, said the team was chosen from 27 applications.

“About 6.5 million to 7 million children die each year from what are probably preventable causes,” Koplan said in a telephone interview. “The purpose of this is to identify the causes of the deaths. The hope is that in relative short order, treatment and prevention would follow. The ultimate goal is a marked reduction in the unnecessary and preventable deaths of children.”

Emory will be working with the International Association of National Public Health Institutes – what Koplan described as the CDCs from around the world.

“This gives us an entré to the public health infrastructure in different countries. By the end of the first year of the project, we will have data flowing.”

When Gates announced the initiative – the only one he mentioned by name at a recent gathering of his foundation – he described it as a “semi-permanent undertaking,” Koplan said. Deloitte Consulting also is part of the team.

CHAMPS will create a network of disease surveillance sites in Africa and Asia. Six are expected to be established within the first three years, but that could be scaled up to more than 20 sites when the program is at full force. Each surveillance site would likely have dozens of people working on the initiative.

The surveillance teams will do non-invasive autopsies on children to identify the causes of their deaths as well as be on the look out for emerging epidemics. Rather than doing full autopsies, CHAMPS would seek permission to photograph the bodies and take needle biopsies from various organs to determine the cause of death.

The teams also would be on the ground in the case of an epidemic – making it possible to control the spread of a disease before it gets out of control.

Dr. Mark Rosenberg, president and CEO of the Task Force for Global Health, said his organization will be responsible for the information technology piece.

“This is a real testimonial to Bill Gates. He realized that to have the biggest impact they could have, they needed to help children,” Rosenberg said. “To many people, this would have been a daunting task. Our role will be to help organize the information about what is killing kids in a way that will be useful to Bill Gates. More than anything else, he wants to make a difference in the lives of children.”

This grant also showcases Atlanta’s emerging stature as a center for global health – thanks to the CDC and many other organizations in the field. They include the Carter Center, CARE, MAP International, MedShare, the CDC Foundation, the American Cancer Society and even Habitat for Humanity International – not to mention the number of Atlanta companies also focused on global issues, such as the Coca-Cola Co. and UPS.

“It illustrates that the broader community here has strengths,” Koplan said about the significance of the Gates grant. “When all of them are assembled together, we are as strong as any place in the world when it comes to global health.”

Charlie Stokes and the CDC Foundation

One of Atlanta’s leading global health organizations has been the CDC Foundation, led by Charlie Stokes since its founding 20 years ago.

Stokes will receive the 2015 Global Community Service Award from Villa International at its annual signature fundraiser – Viva Villa – on the evening of Nov. 8 at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation.

“Villa International provides international researchers and medical professionals a safe and welcoming place to reside while they work with CDC and other global health organizations in Atlanta on a temporary basis,” Stokes said. “I am honored to receive their Global Community Service Award. It is a reflection of the work of my colleagues at the CDC Foundation and the dedication of CDC’s scientists, physicians and staff who make the world a healthier and safer place to live.”

Stokes is being honored for his leadership in building the CDC Foundation from its inception when it raised a couple of million dollars its first year.

“We raised $156 million the year that just ended June 30,” Stokes said. “It started out with just me. Now we have more than 150 employees, and we have people in more than 70 countries working on about 270 distinct programs.”

Stokes recently announced his plans to retire, but he has told his board members that he will serve until his replacement is identified.

Asked if he had any unmet goals, Stokes was quick to answer.

“We are only scratching the surface in helping CDC,” he said. “For us, that means building awareness within CDC and within the donor community. People have realized over time that we represent an opportunity to partner with the CDC.”

Stokes credited Dr. Bill Foege with the idea to start the CDC Foundation. He also said the foundation has been so successful because of the strong leadership it has had over the years, including Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, retired UPS executive Kent “Oz” Nelson, GE Vice Chairman John Rice and retired Southern Co. CEO David Ratcliffe.

In describing the importance of the roles of the CDC and the foundation, Stokes remembers a conversation he had with a leader from Latin America when it first got off the ground.

Quoting that leader, Stokes said: “You give any minister of heath in the world a problem they can’t solve, and the one call they would make would be to the CDC.”

Junior Achievement and Banneker High School

It has been a big week for Junior Achievement of Georgia.

Aug. 10th marked the first day of school for the JA Magnet Business Academy at Banneker High School.

The idea for a JA-MBA at Banneker began 18 months ago when JA CEO Jack Harris started having conversations with Fulton County Schools.

The “school within a school” will focus on business, entrepreneurship and leadership. Harris said that 150 9th grade students enrolled and six teachers were hired – three with graduate-level MBAs.

Harris said that JA has been able to commit $4 million to develop the curriculum and student experience – thanks to support from the Marcus Foundation, the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, the Goizueta Foundation, the Zeist Foundation and the JB Fuqua Foundation.

The JA-MBA aso has nine official corporate partners – Accenture, AT&T, Chick-fil-A, Cisco, Georgia Power, Moxie, SAP, SunTrust, and Turner Broadcasting System.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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