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Allen Prize Recipient William H. Foege Urges Courage to Change Poverty

Rebecca KeaneMarch 21, 2012 | Atlanta, GA

The world health situation is both dire and correctable said William H. Foege during a speech March 15 as Georgia Tech and its Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts presented him with the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage.  Foege pointed to poverty as the underlying problem and enlarged on that theme saying, “People who are poor are subsidizing our way of life and we need to have the courage to change that.”

Dr. Foege was honored during the college’s 2012 Founder’s Day celebration on March 14 – 15th.  Wednesday’s Allen Prize Symposium:  “Global Health and the Challenge of Hope” brought to campus the world’s leading influencers in global public health. Moderator Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who is president and CEO of The Task Force for Global Health which Dr. Foege co-founded, highlighted Dr. Foege’s work in saving millions of lives, expanding the reach of public health, and forging a new concept of global health equity.

“Dr. Foege, more than any other single person, helped create the field of endeavor we now call global health and is the preeminent figure in the field today,” said Rosenberg.  “His work [eradicating] smallpox, vaccine-preventable diseases of children, and other health problems of poor people and poor countries are just the visible signs of a much deeper and more fundamental influence he has had around the world.   For him, improving public health, especially for people living in poverty, is one of the most effective means for promoting social and economic equity and with that, peace.”

Symposium participants were President Jimmy Carter of The Carter Center, Dr. David Addiss who directs the Children Without Worms program at The Task Force for Global Health, and Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA, each of whom spoke via recorded remarks, as well as, Dr. James Curran, Dean of the Rollins School for Public Health at Emory University; Dázon Dixon Diallo, founder and president of SisterLove, Inc.;  Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, director of the Global Health Institute at Emory; former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher, who directs the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse Medical College; and Dr. Foege.

An epidemiologist, Dr. Foege’s sixty-year career has included leadership of U.S. and world health organizations and programs including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The Carter Center, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and The Task Force for Global Health.  He was honored by Georgia Tech as an insistent and courageous voice for change who has often taken controversial positions and actions.  For example, Dr. Foege’s discovery of the surveillance/containment vaccination strategy was crucial to the eradication of smallpox, but equally critical were the intercultural skills he employed overseas to overcome resistance to the new vaccination strategy.  Dr. Foege moved forward the first mass pharmaceutical philanthropy effort, in contradiction to the wishes of the World Health Organization and other groups, which resulted in the donation by Merck of heart worm medicine for treatments of worms in children and is now a hugely successful program that is undergoing vast expansion.

Dr. Foege’s is ranked among those who have saved the most lives in the world and he has brought about extraordinary progress across an astonishing breadth of health issues including disease eradication and control, child survival and development, injury prevention, population control, preventive medicine, poverty, and tobacco-related diseases. 

In remarks directed especially to students, Dr. Foege said, “Absolutely love science, but don’t worship it.  There is something better, and that is science in the service of humanity, a science of equity, and science distributed with compassion.” 

Dr. Foege asked students to think beyond financial rewards.  “If you want real power, think beyond yourself, your nation, and even your time in the world.  Think of using your time to change the future.”

This Founder’s Day marked the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of Ivan Allen, Jr. as mayor of Atlanta and highlighted the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts ongoing research, teaching, and service in the dimensions of his visionary urban policies and his values of social courage, social justice, and ethical action.  The Allen family was present for the celebration. 

Events on the 15th began with a research roundtable, “Compassion and Health,” presented by college and Institute faculty.  The panel “Health and Humanitarian Goals” was moderated by IAC Public Policy alumna, Lynn Austin who is deputy director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Presenters were Dr. Anne Pollock (LCC), Dr. Jennifer Singh (HTS), and Dr. Julie Swann, (ISyE).  William J. Todd (CoM), a recipient of the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Progress and Service and a Georgia healthcare leader, moderated the panel “Healthcare Policy and Economics” with presenters Dr. Vivek Ghosal (ECON), Dr. Kimberly Isett (PubPol), and Dr. Aaron Levine (PubPol). 

Editors Note: On April 26, 2012, President Obama named Dr. Foege as a recipient of the Presidental Medal of Freedom, which is the nation's highest civilian honor.

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