By: David Ross, ScD, CEO and President, The Task Force for Global Health
The Task Force for Global Health may be one of Georgia’s best-kept secrets.
While we are routinely called upon by the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, ministries of health, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others to tackle complex challenges, I bet most Georgians don’t know their state is home to an organization working in more than 150 countries to eliminate diseases, ensure access to vaccines and essential medicines, and strengthen health systems.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic brought global health to the forefront, Georgians can be proud that The Task Force and our partners are playing a leading role in the response, locally and around the world. The short list includes: training and equipping epidemiologists on disease surveillance and response; advising
Google, Apple and other tech leaders on public health protocols for digital contact tracing tools; informing vaccine safety guidelines; coordinating distribution of 9 million essential medical supplies (such as masks, isolation gowns, ventilators, and face shields) to hard-hit communities in the U.S. and elsewhere; and helping countries prepare supply chains to distribute vaccines when ready. We are also helping countries navigate disruptions to routine services such as immunizations and treatment of other diseases and to resume those as feasible.
Although the pandemic was new, our approach is not. From our very first days, nearly 40 years ago, we have been laser-focused on three things: health equity, collaboration, and measurable results. Our founder, former CDC Director William Foege, led the legendary campaign that eradicated smallpox in 1980. Dr. Foege then turned his sights to the next big challenge: ensuring that children everywhere could be vaccinated against preventable diseases like polio, measles, and diphtheria. At the time, only about 20% of children received that protection, mainly those in high-income countries. Driven by a strong sense of social justice, Dr. Foege and the other Task Force co-founders brought together the WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank, and the Rockefeller Foundation to ensure that all children – no matter where they lived – could be protected. Within just six years, by 1990, global childhood immunization rates soared to 80 percent, preventing the deaths of millions of children.
Throughout The Task Force’s decades of work since, that same sense of purpose, focus on results, and partnership approach drive everything we do to advance health equity. During this time, the world has achieved great strides in global health and development. For example, deaths of children under five years old dropped more than half between 1990 and 2019.
While The Task Force and our partners are honored to contribute to this progress, we still have a long way to go. Last year alone, roughly 14,000 children younger than five died every day, most from preventable diseases. And COVID certainly revealed great cracks in the public health infrastructure. We also know that significant disparities still exist, with disproportionate deaths and health burdens borne by the world’s poorest people and people of color.
What gives me hope is that the world has changed dramatically since we started our work and we are better positioned now to achieve our goals. For one thing, low- and middle-income countries have greater capacity to contribute and are playing a leading role in setting the agenda. Through the United Nations, global leaders have set ambitious targets for global health and development, aiming to make real strides by the year 2030. Here in the U.S., the heightened focus on racial justice provides both a moment of reckoning and an unprecedented opportunity to make long overdue changes so that all people have equitable access to achieve their full potential unimpeded by systemic racism.
There’s one other thing which is perhaps the best-kept secret of all, though it shouldn’t be. As this report highlights, Georgia has extraordinary global health talent and capability, with multiple organizations making significant contributions. Our state serves as a rich ecosystem for the global health and biotech sectors and an incubator for new ventures to advance health innovations. Here at The Task Force, we are proud to call Georgia both our global headquarters and our home.