Task Force for Global Health celebrates 30 years saving lives

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on October 9, 2015.

For more than 30 years, Decatur-based The Task Force for Global Health has been quietly saving and improving the lives of millions of people around the world.

Its secret sauce? Collaboration.

On Oct. 12, pioneers in global health will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Task Force at an event at the Carter Center by challenging itself and its partners by asking: What will it take to end diseases of extreme poverty?

Bill Foege

Bill Foege

Dr. Mark Rosenberg, president and CEO of the Task Force since 1999, said attention is being targeted on “global health equity.”

In many ways, that’s what the Task Force has been doing since day one.

Actually 31 years ago, Dr. Bill Foege, Bill Watson and Carol Walters formed the Task Force for Child Survival and Development. They were able to convince then-Emory University President Jim Laney to provide administrative support with one goal in mind: Developed nations were vaccinating 80 percent of their children while only 20 percent of children in developing nations were being vaccinated. If a concerted effort could be made to vaccinate 80 percent of the children in developing countries, it would save the lives of 3,000 kids a day.

International agencies had been working on the effort for years, but vaccination rates had been stuck at 20 percent.

So Foege decided a collaborative approach was need. The Task Force, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, UNICEF, the United Nations Development Program and the Rockefeller Foundation forged a partnership that jointly raised money and developed a coordinated plan to tackle the vaccination effort.

In six years — from 1984 to 1990 — they were able to reach their goal of 80 percent in developing countries. The UNICEF leader at the time, Jim Grant, called it the largest peacetime mobilization in history.

When victory was declared, Foege had intended to disband the Task Force. But people soon realized that the secret formula of the Task Force could be applied to other initiatives.

“As we worked, we saw that the collaborative approach could accomplish very good things,” Rosenberg said. “It became clear that there more issues we could accomplish through collaboration.”

Among the pioneers who will be at the Oct. 12 celebration are Foege, who will receive a special tribute; Jim Yong Kim, group president of the World Bank; Howard Hiatt, former dean of the Harvard University School of Public Health; and Paul Farmer, co-founder and chief strategist of Partners in Health.

Rosenberg said the occasion will be an appropriate time to ask, “Where did we come from? What have we done? Where are we? And where do we go from here?”

The Task Force for Global Health, with annual contributions (cash and in-kind) expected to be $1.6 billion in its 2015 fiscal year, is the largest nonprofit in Georgia and ranks fourth in the United States.

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.

3 replies
  1. John Ingersoll says:

    Bill Foege is a secular saint. The first week I was at Emory (1985) I met 3 giants: Foege, Jimmy Carter, and Jim Laney. What a trifecta. Worked for all of them.Report

    Reply

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