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Atlanta: a hub for global health

Rotary will be in the spotlight next month when the Rotary International Convention comes to Atlanta (June 10-14), but the city’s vast global public health community also will be enjoying some of the glow.

Atlanta has become a center for global public health — home to nonprofits such as The Carter Center, the Task Force for Global Health, CARE and MAP International, as well as academic institutions such as the Morehouse School of Medicine, Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, Georgia State’s School of Public Health, and University of Georgia’s school of public health. There’s also Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, a giant in pediatric health care, and the Shepherd Center, renowned for treating severe head and spinal cord injuries.

Mark Rosenberg, vice chairman of the Georgia Global Health Alliance, said Atlanta’s extraordinary set of public health resources, from nonprofit to academic and corporate, plus the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, make it unique.

“Atlanta is the only place in the world that has the world’s leading public health organization, and that’s CDC,” said Rosenberg. “It is the preeminent public health organization in the world that works closely with the World Health Organization, with all 50 states, our territories and with countries around the world, providing expertise, leadership and a skilled work force to deliver on the programs and projects.”

On June 11, Atlanta and nonprofit MAP International will present the first annual Bill Foege Global Health Award to the Rotary International Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for their efforts to eradicate polio. Rotary International President John Germ will accept for the RI Foundation. Jay Wenger, director of the Gates Foundation polio program will accept the award for that organization. Bill Gates will address the RI convention on June 12.

The award is named for William “Bill” Foege, the former CDC director whose imprint is on virtually every global public health organization in Atlanta.

Rosenberg said Foege, who led the CDC from 1977 to 1983, is a visionary who modernized the organization from its original focus on malaria and infectious disease prevention to a broader mandate to deal with chronic diseases and injuries, and other leading causes of death for Americans.

“He changed the name fromthe Communicable Disease Center to the Center for Disease Control, and then it subsequently became the Centers for Disease Control, with multiple centers, one for chronic diseases, one for environmental health, one for injury control,” Rosenberg said.

After Foege stepped down from the CDC, he and President Carter established two global forces for public health. One was The Carter Center, and the second was the Task Force for Child Survival. Foege was the first executive director of both organizations. He also helped to start the Rollins School of Public Health, Rosenberg said.

“I think there’s probably not a global public health organization in Atlanta that Bill Foege has not touched in some way,” said Rosenberg.

Foege is also widely credited with eradicating smallpox.

Steve Stirling, president of MAP International, said it was Foege who convinced Bill Gates, in the mid-1980s, to make eradicating polio a top priority.

Rosenberg says Foege taught Bill and Melinda Gates about global public health, and about the concept of eradicating the disease.

“Bill Foege said if you don’t eradicate a disease, then it smolders in different places. The rich people don’t get it because they get vaccinated, or they get the antibiotics they might need. They have clean water and sanitation. They don’t get the disease. But the disease smolders on in poor countries around the world. But he said if you can eradicate the disease, then you’re helping everybody. You’re protecting everybody on Earth. You’re even protecting future generations that are not yet born from being ravaged by that disease.”

Stirling, who contracted polio himself at age one in South Korea, said the Bill Foege Global Health Award will further establish Atlanta’s reputation as a global health hub.

Stirling’s organization, MAP International, is one of several founding members of the Georgia Global Health Alliance, which aims to get global health organizations in Georgia working more collaboratively to tackle problems.

Last December, MAP and another group, MedShare, worked with the Carter Center to provide help in Liberia. MAP provided medicines and supplies, MedShare provided medical equipment like hospital beds, surgical lights and X-ray machines, and The Carter Center provided mental health services, he said.

“By working together in an alliance, you can better coordinate and work together,” Stirling said. “Each member of the alliance does what it does, but in aggregate we can do a lot more together.”

MedShare and MAP also helped equip a surgical theater in Ivory Coast, Africa. MAP helped facilitate the building and equipping (funds were provided through MAP) of the hospital in Beoumi and then worked with MedShare to fully equip the surgical unit with the best in class hospital equipment, medicines and supplies.

Stirling, who like Rosenberg is a member of the Rotary Club of Atlanta, said he’s incredibly proud to be a Rotarian and to help prevent children from getting polio.

“I know the suffering that Rotary International is preventing by eradicating polio, with the Gates Foundation. It is so personal to me.”

Stirling said he went to India with Rotary International Foundation this spring to provide polio vaccines to children in the slums of New Delhi.

“When I see the faces of kids vaccinated, I see the lives they have in front of them, free from polio,” he said.

In India, people who have polio are called “crawlers,” because they have to crawl on the ground, Stirling said.

“Most of the world believes that if you have any handicap or disability, that you and your parents have sinned and you are being punished by God,” Stirling said. “So that’s why this is a horrible life, not only do they have the physical challenges of having polio, but society just looks down on them and stigmatizes them like they have leprosy. It is horrific what they have to go through. That’s what RI is preventing, and I am so thankful to be a part of the Rotary community, because we are doing amazing work to prevent suffering around the world and I will be celebrating with the rest of Rotarians when polio is eradicated, hopefully in the near future.”



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