If there is such a thing as a rock star in the global health care sector, Bill Foege is the man. Known for his work eradicating smallpox, the former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also the founder of the Task Force for Global Health, the second largest health-related charity in the world. Foege is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Award for Humanitarian Contributions to the Health of Humankind and the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage. He can now add another honor to his long list of accomplishments.
MAP International, a Brunswick-based Christian organization that provides life-changing medicines and health supplies to people in need, recently made Foege the namesake of its annual health awards. Since 1954, the organization has provided more than $6 billion in medicines and medical supplies. This year, Bill Foege Global Health Awards were presented to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International for the work both organizations do. In developing countries, the foundation focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people —especially those with the fewest resources — have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Rotary International was honored for its work in eradicating polio.
Before an impressive crowd of high-level executives and health care experts gathered at for the gala evening at the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta, Ambassador Andrew Young gave the keynote address. MAP joined forces with several Atlanta-based corporations to recognize Foege, Rotary International and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, including Chick-fil-A, The Coca-Cola Co., Delta Air Lines, General Building Maintenance, The Home Depot and The UPS Foundation.
Although MAP International is based in Brunswick, it is the hope of Steve Stirling, its president and CEO, to help establish Atlanta as a center for global health, because so many organizations, including the Carter Center, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morehouse University, CARE and Emory University, are headquartered there.
Naming the award after Foege, who remains active in global health care and writing books, was a fairly obvious choice.
“We wanted to come up with a unique award with a name MAP could associate with,” said MAP President and CEO Steve Stirling.
Stirling said the Foege Award will continue to honor people and organizations who have had a huge impact on global health.
Next year’s recipients will be former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, for their work in helping to bring an end to guinea worms in Africa.
Stirling explained that all this year’s honorees had done a great deal to advance the cause of global health care in the past 29 years.
“Rotary is largely responsible for eradicating polio, along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” he said. “Advances have been made in the past 29 years. India has been polio-free for the past five years.”
The peninsular nation in Southeast Asia is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Stamping out a communicable disease such as polio there is no easy feat.
Wild polio, which Stirling said is the most dangerous form of the virus, is still present in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo. Polio is of special importance to Stirling, who is a survivor of the disease, which he contracted when he was an infant in South Korea. Because his family could not take care of his medical needs, he was later placed in an orphanage, and subsequently adopted by family from Alaska when he was 11 years old.
Other agencies, including UNICEF and the World Health Organization have also been working toward the same ends.
On MAP’s website, Stirling states that a 60 cents vaccine could have prevented him from contracting polio.
In some areas of the developing world, eradicating disease comes with physical and cultural hurdles for workers to cross.
“People believe if you’re sick, God is punishing you or your family,” he said. “The sick person has sinned and must be punished.”
The physical barriers are a result of the sheer number of people who need medical care.
“According to the WHO (World Health Organization), there are 2 billion people in the world who do not have access to lifesaving medication,” Stirling said. “Fifteen thousand children die under age 5 die every day of upper respiratory infections and diarrhea.”
All these children need to get well are antibiotics and oral hydration solution, which is similar to Pedialyte, Stirling explained. Other lifesaving medications out of many people’s reach include those which treat diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular health and cholesterol levels.
Giving to organizations like MAP actually helps protect people globally. People, and their communicable diseases, travel, and stopping diseases in their tracks protects people in all regions of the world.
Stirling said lack of access to basic health care shouldn’t be an accident of birth.
“Where you’re born or who you’re born to should not dictate whether you have access to basic medicine,” he said.