By Maria Saporta
The past, present and future were on full display Monday at the Task Force for Global Health’s 30th anniversary celebration.
The Task Force’s founder – Bill Foege – the revered godfather of global health. Foege was given a special tribute by current president and CEO Mark Rosenberg, who succeeded Foege in 1999.
At the beginning of 2016, another transition will take place.
David Ross, director of the Task Force’s of the Public Health Informatics Institute and vice president for program development, will succeed Rosenberg at the nonprofit’s CEO.
“As I prepare to take on this role, I know I’m filling the shoes of two very great men,” Ross told the crowd gathered at the Carter Center. And then he tried to foreshadow what the next 30 years at the Task Force would look like.
“One thing that will not change is the fundamental underpinning of the Task Force model,” Ross continued. “Still fundamental to the Task Force are compassion, collaboration, stewardship and global health equity…. At the Task Force, collaboration never goes out of style.”
The half-day event commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Task Force reinforced those fundamental beliefs over and over again.
Leaders who have been working in the global health field for decades remembered how ground-breaking the Task Force had been – finding ways to get independent international agencies to collaborate in fighting some of the most devastating diseases known to mankind.
A key lesson: define a goal and put a target date to accomplish that goal – even if seems unrealistic.
Foege described the origins of the Task Force for Child Survival and Development – formed in 1984 as a way to get the leaders of the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the UN Development Program and the Rockefeller Foundation to dramatically increase the percentage of children being vaccinated around the world.
In under-developed countries, only 20 percent of the children were being vaccinated against preventable diseases – killing about 3,000 children a day.
Foege and the other global health partners pledged to increase that percentage to 80 percent within six years.
Amazingly, they reached that goal.
Foege also was instrumental to in developing a “pharma” partnership with the nonprofit sector. Merck provided Mectizan (used to treat and prevent heartworms in dogs) free to the Task Force for as long as it was needed.
Now – a billion vaccinations later – an untold number of thousands if not millions of children are alive today – thanks to that one initiative.
Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, and Paul Farmer, co founder and chief strategist of Partners in Health, Bank, were called the pied piper sin global health – sneaking suitcases of inexpensive medicines from the hospital pharmacy to take to people in Peru who were fighting drug resistant TB. Ordinarily, it would cost about $200,000 to treat someone with drug resistant TB, but Kim and Farmer were able to prove that with the right partners, the cost of treatment actually ended up being under $2,000.
That helped change the mindset of the World Health Organization. Every one should have access to health care.
Quoting Paul Farmer, Rosenberg said: “The root of all evil is the belief that some lives are more important than others.”
At the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim established another goal.
“Our dream is a world free of extreme poverty by 2030,” said Kim, who added that today there are probably 700,000 people living in extreme poverty – a dramatic decline mainly attributable to the high rate of economic growth in China. “The excitement is that we now are the first generation in human history that can see the end of extreme poverty.”
One reason fewer people are living in extreme poverty is because global health partners have been treating and preventing diseases in the poorest parts of the world.
“As I look to the next 30 years, I know we have more to do,” Ross said, adding that because of the Task Force “hundreds of millions of lives have been made better.”
And then with a hint of what’s to come, Ross said: “We are outgrowing our current home. We are now in the process of looking for more office space. We have an obligation to grow. Lives depend on it.”