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September 24, 2001

Bill Foege wins Lasker Award for Health Science: 'America's Nobel'

By Holly Korschun


Last Friday, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation presented the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service in Support of Medical Research and Health Sciences to William Foege, Presidential Distinguished Professor of International Health in the School of Public Health.

According to the foundation, Foege received the award for “his courageous leadership in improving worldwide public health, and his pivotal role in eradicating smallpox and preventing river blindness.” The award was presented in a Sept. 21 ceremony in New York.

For 56 years, the Lasker Awards have celebrated scientists, physicians and public servants whose accomplishments have made major advances in the understanding, diagnosis, prevention, treatment and even cure of many of the great crippling and killing diseases of our century. The awards have come to be known as “America’s Nobels” and are as coveted among biomedical researchers as any prizes in medicine and science.

“I am very pleased to be included in the Lasker Award family but especially pleased that they have highlighted the importance of applying the scientific tools available in this country to the overwhelming health needs of the developing world,” Foege said. “I am proud to be associated with Emory, a University working to reduce that global health burden.”

The Lasker Awards were inaugurated in the years following World War II by philanthropists Albert and Mary Woodard Lasker. From time to time, the Lasker Foundation also presents the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service in Support of Medical Research and the Health Sciences to a leading public figure outside of the field of medical research. Award recipients receive an honorarium, a citation highlighting achievements and an inscribed statuette of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the foundation’s symbol of victory over disability, disease and death.

“It is a very significant and worthy honor for Dr. Foege to receive America’s most respected award in science and health,” said Public Health Dean James Curran. “In selecting Dr. Foege for the Lasker Award in Support of Medical Research and Health Sciences, the Foundation is honoring a physician who has served with singular success in promoting health and preventing illness throughout the world.”

“The Public Service Award honors a tireless leader in public health whose work has led to the saving of millions of lives,” said Daniel Koshland Jr., Lasker board member and chairman of the selection committee. “Foege helped to unravel the mysteries of Toxic Shock Syndrome and Reyes Syndrome, issued early warnings about AIDS, and played a pivotal role in eradicating smallpox and preventing river blindness.

“As director of the Centers for Disease Control from 1977–1983, [Foege] was guided by a humanitarian vision that all people—regardless of economic status, nationality or age—should live long and healthy lives,” Koshland continued. “His lifelong commitment to improving worldwide public health pays tribute to the legacy of Mary Lasker, in whose name this award is given.”

Foege received his medical degree from the University of Washington Medical School in 1961 and his master’s of public health from Harvard University in 1965. He worked as a medical missionary in Eastern Nigeria, where he developed a surveillance and containment strategy that changed the worldwide approach to smallpox vaccination and eventually led to the disease’s eradication in the 1970s, when he was director of the Smallpox Eradication Program. Foege served as a medical officer for the World Health Organization in India, then joined the CDC as assistant to the director before becoming director himself in 1977.

From 1984 to 2000, Foege served as executive director of the Task Force for Child Survival and Development, which in just six years helped raise general immunization levels of the world’s children from 20 percent to 80 percent and created a successful program to overcome river blindness.

Foege served as president of the American Public Health Association and later became executive director of the Carter Center. Also a fellow for health policy at the center, Foege directed the Global 2000 project, which dramatically improved farming practices and increased agricultural yields in developing countries, as well as undertook the eradication of Guinea worm.

In 1997 Foege was appointed Presidential Distinguished Professor. In 1999 he was appointed senior medical advisor for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, which targets diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.


Back to Emory Report September 24, 2001