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Effort under way to brand Atlanta as global health center

By Maria Saporta
Friday, June 01, 2012

Atlanta often claims to be something it’s not — hoping it eventually will become what it claims.

Ironically, Atlanta can accurately claim to be a leading center for global health. But for a host of reasons, Atlanta has yet to fully capitalize on the presence of numerous global health institutions based in the metro area.

A high-level effort among civic leaders, however, is under way to leverage Atlanta’s unique position and to build closer collaborations among the various local entities that are improving the quality of life of people around the world.

Consider what’s here — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The Carter Center, CARE, the Task Force for Global Health, the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, Morehouse School of Medicine, the American Cancer Society, MedShare and MAP International, to name a few.

“All the pieces are there,” said Dr. Bill Foege, an international leader in global health who has returned to Atlanta as a full-time resident. “All you have to do is light the match.”

If Atlanta succeeds, it will help give the city greater international notoriety, contribute to economic development efforts, support research activities in vaccines and biomedical research, and enhance the community’s contribution to the overall well-being of citizens around the world.

Foege’s credentials are without equal. On May 29, President Barack Obama awarded Foege the top honor given to American citizens, the Medal of Freedom.

Foege is a former director of the CDC, a former director of the Carter Center, a co-founder of the Atlanta-based Task Force for Global Health, and most recently a senior adviser to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

That’s not all. Foege led the successful international effort to eradicate smallpox. And www.scienceheroes.com has listed him as the person who has saved the most lives in the world.

It is Foege who has described this era as the “golden age of global health.”

In two two-hour interviews, Foege and one of his protégés — Dr. Mark Rosenberg, executive director of the Task Force for Global Health — provided insights on how Atlanta can strengthen its place as a leading global health center.

They provided a road map for how Atlanta can exploit its strengths and overcome the obstacles that have stood in its way.

Rosenberg mentioned two reasons why Atlanta has not yet met its potential in global health.

“The organizations that have worked in global health have been impoverished,” Rosenberg said. “There are not enough resources in good times. Unfortunately, that leads to competition among the organizations.”
The other hurdle is the neutrality of the CDC, which Rosenberg describes as the anchor tenant in a mall.

“People have hoped that CDC would be the anchor store for Atlanta,” Rosenberg said. “CDC views itself as being on the national or international stage. They don’t want to be charged with playing favorites. It’s been difficult for CDC’s leadership to figure out how they can participate with the community and not be biased.”

On the other hand, if Atlanta’s global health institutions were able to build closer collaborations, then they could become more efficient and effective in their missions.

An example of what’s possible was the recent “Atlanta Summit: Sustaining American Leadership in Global Health and Water,” co-hosted by CARE, the World Affairs Council of Atlanta and the Center for Strategic and International Studies on May 21. Seventeen other Georgia-based entities were listed as “cooperating organizations” — a testimonial of richness and diversity of entities that exists in the metro area and the state.

Foege said it would make sense to bring all the “principals together” to work toward an outcome and to become part of “a vision that’s bigger than anything they could do alone.”

Currently, Pete McTier, the former president of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, is working with other leaders to help create such a vision for Atlanta.

As Rosenberg said: “This has to be a picture that is bigger than any one institution.”

Other cities also are vying for the title of being the center for global health, such as Seattle, London and Geneva.

Seattle has been marketing itself as “the nexus” of global health for the past several years, and it has created the Global Health Alliance to market that message at home and abroad. The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce actually sent a delegation to Atlanta and Savannah in mid-May partly to study how the two communities compare in the global health field.

Foege, who has lived in both Atlanta and Seattle, does not believe it’s an either/or situation.

“What I say to both Atlanta and Seattle, we shouldn’t have one global health center,” Foege said. “We should have many of them.”

In fact, Foege and Rosenberg said metro Atlanta should take advantage of what is already here. While Seattle is home to the Gates Foundation and is a research center for global health, Atlanta is a business center with the opportunity to excel in the logistics and delivery of vaccines and global health services.

Atlanta already is viewed as a leading center for logistics and transportation. Several Atlanta-based companies have an extensive global reach — such as United Parcel Service Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., Newell Rubbermaid Inc. and The Coca-Cola Co. — and they can become instrumental in raising Georgia to a higher international plateau.

“What’s needed now in Atlanta is the architecture for global health — getting the right people to develop the vision,” Foege said. “My vision would be to help develop the delivery system. That’s where business can help.”

Foege believes Atlanta can create a partnership between its companies, universities and nonprofit organizations.

Metro Atlanta’s leading research universities — Georgia Tech, Georgia State University and Emory University, to name a few — can help build the state’s global health profile and establish academic programs that focus on logistics and distribution.

Foege also sees the opportunity to involve other Atlanta-based nonprofits into the global health arena. For example, Habitat for Humanity International is building homes around the world. Perhaps it also could build medical clinics in the communities it serves.

But the first step is to build a common vision for how Atlanta can play a leading role in global health.

“What Gandhi said was: ‘People often become what they believe themselves to be,’ ” Foege said, adding that since Seattle began marketing itself as a center for global health, its leaders have increased their commitment to that vision.

Atlanta can use the same technique. As Foege said: “There is an incubation period for everything.”

Maria Saporta

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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