An Atlanta pioneer in global health — William Foege — to receive Tech’s Ivan Allen prize

By Maria Saporta

One of Atlanta’s most important leaders, who is an unsung hero in his hometown, is finally getting the recognition he deserves.

William H. Foege will receive Georgia Tech’s 2012 Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage award for his leadership in global health.

Among Foege’s numerous contributions include his leadership in the possible eradication of smallpox and other diseases worldwide. Foege will be honored during events at Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts from March 14 to 15, 2012.

“Dr. Foege’s ability to develop and implement innovative health strategies has alleviated much human suffering in our world today and for generations to come,” said Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson in a statement. “It is our privilege to honor Dr. Foege for his deep moral commitment to humanitarian progress and his lifetime of service through Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen Prize for Social Courage.”

During a career spanning 60 years, Foege championed domestic and international health policies emphasizing disease eradication and control, and issues of child survival and development, injury prevention, population control, preventive medicine, and public health leadership, particularly in the developing world.

Through leadership roles at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Carter Center and the Task Force for Child Survival (now known as the Task Force for Global Health), Foege guided early response to the HIV/AIDS crisis; oversaw the eradication of Guinea worm disease, polio and measles, and the elimination of river blindness overseas; and advocated policies that vastly accelerated childhood immunization in developing countries.

Foege also is credited with bringing to life visions for global health at both the Carter Center and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage recognizes individuals such as Foege who, by standing up for clear moral principles in the social arena, have positively affected public discourse at the risk of their own careers, livelihoods and even their lives. The $100,000 prize is supported in perpetuity through a commitment by the Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation.

“Like former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr., Dr. Foege has envisioned a better world and created communities for realizing that dream in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems,” said Jacqueline Royster, dean of Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. “His courage to do the right thing and his steadfastness, sometimes in the face of staunch opposition, has saved millions of lives and reshaped the global dialog about what is possible in health and social progress.”

As a young epidemiologist working in Nigeria in the 1960s, Foege discovered the power of the surveillance/containment vaccination strategy for eradicating smallpox. He braved civil war there to ensure that the last pocket of the disease was eliminated. Elsewhere in Africa and India, he overcame resistance to the new vaccination strategy, ultimately enabling the world to rid itself of this devastating disease.

Appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 to head the CDC, Foege enlarged the organization’s mandate beyond infectious diseases to encompass the full spectrum of human health.

In 1984, Foege co-founded the Task Force for Child Survival and Development as a working group for the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The forerunner of today’s Task Force for Global Health, the Task Force under Foege increased childhood immunizations worldwide from 20 percent to 80 percent, and expanded its mandate in 1991 to engage challenges such as malnutrition and hunger.

Foege remains active in many organizations. He is on the Advisory Board for the Emory University Global Health Institute and is a professor emeritus, at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. He attended Pacific Lutheran University, earned a medical degree from the University of Washington and a Master of Public Health from Harvard University.

Leaders in the public health industry credit Foege with helping develop Atlanta as a nexus for global health organizations and initiatives.

Although Foege has spent much of his career in Atlanta, now he is a resident of both Georgia and Seattle, Wa.

For more information on Georgia Tech’s Allen Prize, please click on the following link: http://ivanallenprize.gatech.edu/home/.

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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