I got the news this morning, in an email from Dr. Mark Rosenberg, CEO of the Task Force for Global Health. Dr. Bill Foege will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
He certainly deserves it. Dr. Foege, a physician and epidemiologist, helped lead the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. He also led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Carter Center, where he directed initiatives focused on the eradication of Guinea worm, polio and measles and the elimination of river blindness.
In 1984, with colleagues, he founded the Task Force for Child Survival, now called the Task Force for Global Health. He also was senior medical adviser for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which supports many global health initiatives, including ITI’s efforts to eliminate blinding trachoma by 2020.
The news of Dr. Foege’s most recent award prompted this Tweet from Melinda Gates:
Congratulations to my friend Bill Foege, named as a Medal of Freedom recipient by President Obama for his leadership in #globalhealth.
ITI is one of many programs housed at the Task Force, which promotes childhood immunizations, and seeks to prevent polio, measles, blinding trachoma, river blindness and other diseases.
Dr. Foege was just here yesterday, speaking at a ceremony to mark the expansion of our building. Our new conference room, large enough to bring together global health partners from all over the world, is named for him. True to his humble nature, he didn’t mention the award, as he encouraged us to continue working to improve the health of people around the world.
His enthusiasm for improving the lives of others has inspired a generation of public health students to join the fight with passion and compassion. He encourages his students and colleagues to "see the faces" of the people we help, and understand that our work can improve their daily lives.
In a statement lauding the 13 honorees, which include musician Bob Dylan, astronaut John Glenn, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, President Obama said: “These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our nation. They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award.”
I look forward to seeing Dr. Foege share the stage with the other honorees, and hope that many others will learn about the inspirational work of this global health hero.