By Guest Columnist DR. LOUIS SULLIVAN, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and president emeritus of the Morehouse School of Medicine.

If you have visited the Atlanta BeltLine, you have seen firsthand a wonderful example of the impact of creating and implementing a vision. What began as a senior design project by an architectural student at Georgia Tech is now catalyzing development and creating a thriving community in the heart of our city. We are facing a similar opportunity to become a hub for global health innovation.

Dr. Louis Sullivan

Today, Atlanta is at the crossroads of global health. No other city in the world is home to institutions like the CDC, the Carter Center, The Task Force for Global Health, Care USA, the American Cancer Society, MAP International, Habitat for Humanity, MedShare, and many other global health-related nonprofits. We are a leader in critical components of global health such as infrastructure, research and development, logistics, transportation, communication, fintech, and health IT. We have strong academic institutions such as Georgia Tech, Emory and Morehouse School of Medicine.

We also have a wealth of leadership experience. What other city has a former President of the United States (and Nobel Laureate), two former U.S. Secretaries of Health and Human Services, a former U.S. Surgeon General, a former Ambassador to the United Nations, and a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives all focused on city, state, national, and global health? Add to that esteemed list Dr. Bill Foege, who is widely acknowledged for leading the effort that eradicated smallpox in the 1970s and is credited on with saving more lives than anyone in history.

We are also, sadly, a leader in many challenges such as high maternal mortality, deaths from chronic diseases, and health disparities. The difference in life expectancy, for example, in Atlanta between residents of Buckhead and those on the Westside is 13 years. Yet these challenges also represent an opportunity. What better place than the home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to use our diversity as an opportunity to lead the fight against health disparities here at home and around the world?

Having these institutions and leaders is the first step. They must be aligned with a broader vision. This vision is articulated by the nonprofit Center for Global Health Innovation (CGHI), which has united over 400 members, partners and stakeholders including corporate, nonprofit, academic, government, philanthropic, research and community institutions on the goal of making Atlanta a leader in global health innovation. The Global Health Innovation District is a physical representation of this vision, with several hundred thousand square feet of meeting, laboratory, office, and research space to serve as a physical hub for innovation and collaboration.

Why now? The Atlanta City Council is considering an investment to support the Global Health Innovation District. The timing is critical! Atlanta is making a bid to become an innovation hub for a new federal agency, the Advanced Research Project Agency for Healthcare (ARPA-H), which will be investing several billion dollars in health innovation. CGHI is critical to Atlanta’s efforts to win not just this competition, but several other opportunities to host major health conferences and research efforts that will bring some of the world’s leading innovators in healthcare into our community.

Like the BeltLine, this will create physical and virtual infrastructure that will make Atlanta the center of health innovation and impact investing for the world. While Atlanta has many built-in advantages, other cities are investing aggressively to try and leapfrog our efforts. For example, city officials in Charlotte, North Carolina have committed to invest $75 million in The Pearl – a public-private partnership with total investments of over $1.5 billion.

Most people know that North Carolina had the vision to expand branch banking laws to lure the center of the banking industry away from Georgia. Fewer people know about an earlier example of visionary leadership. In 1959, North Carolina Governor Luther Hartwell Hodges presided over the third poorest state in the country. He had a vision to create a brand and focus for his state to improve research and development and job creation. Today, that vision has been fulfilled in Research Triangle Park, which is the 7,000-acre home to more than 60,000 jobs in North Carolina.

Atlanta is uniquely positioned to become a global leader in health innovation, impact investing, and early-stage investment. We urge our city’s leaders to invest in this vision so future Atlantans and Georgians can look back with pride on those decisions and the resulting outcomes.

Would you like to write a guest column for SaportaReport? The SR team strives to uplift and amplify the diverse perspectives in our community, and we want to hear from you! Email Editor Derek Prall to discuss the specifics.

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