September 24, 2001
Bill Foege wins Lasker Award for Health Science: 'America's Nobel'
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 Americas 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
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 foundations
symbol of victory over disability, disease and death.
It is a very significant and worthy honor for Dr. Foege to receive
Americas 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 19771983,
[Foege] was guided by a humanitarian vision that all peopleregardless
of economic status, nationality or ageshould 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 masters 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 diseases
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 worlds 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
In 1997 Foege was appointed Presidential Distinguished Professor. In 1999 he was appointed senior medical advisor for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations Global Health Program, which targets diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.