Task Force at 40: Task Force launches the William H. Foege Collaboration Center at 40th Anniversary Celebration in Atlanta

Task Force Co-Founder and namesake of The William H. Foege Collaboration Center. Photo credit: Dean Hesse

2024 marks The Task Force’s 40th anniversary! Throughout this year our Dispatches newsletter will shine a spotlight on people, partners and programs who have contributed to 40 years of impact. In this issue we highlight our May 9 Atlanta celebration where more than 170 guests – including Task Force Co-Founder Dr. William Foege, Hilton Foundation Board Member Conrad N. Hilton III, former Merck CEO Dr. Roy Vagelos, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (virtually), Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong (virtually),  Congresswoman Nikema Williams (virtually),  Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett, District 2 Commissioner Michelle Long Spears and other global health champions – gathered to celebrate and launch the William H. Foege Collaboration Center.

More than 170 Task Force partners – from government, nonprofits, foundations, private sector and philanthropy  – gathered May 9 at The Task Force for Global Health headquarters in Decatur (Atlanta, Georgia) to unveil The William H. Foege Collaboration Center and celebrate four decades of collaboration and global health impact. The center, named for Task Force Co-Founder Bill Foege, who spoke at the event, will bring together partners to tackle the world’s most pressing global health challenges – a commitment The Task Force has honored since it was established in 1984.

“The Task Force for Global Health and its partners exemplify what can be achieved when we work together with humanity, clarity of purpose, and humility,” said Hilton Foundation Board Member Conrad N. Hilton III. “It’s a simple concept, but the impact has been tremendous. Speaking of impact, there is no way that we can celebrate The Task Force’s 40 years of life-saving work without recognizing the remarkable Dr. Bill Foege. Dr. Foege’s decades of leadership, commitment, passion, and helping people facing disadvantage across this country and around the world has been truly transformative.”

The Hilton Foundation in 2016 awarded The Task Force the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the world’s largest annual humanitarian award presented to a nonprofit organization judged to have made extraordinary contributions to alleviating human suffering. The award marked a significant milestone for the organization that was created In March 1984, when a group of 34 global health experts met to discuss a critical challenge: how to reduce the number of children contracting and dying of preventable diseases like measles, polio, and diphtheria. With five sponsoring agencies – the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the Rockefeller Foundation – participants launched The Task Force for Child Survival, with Dr. Foege at the helm. He established The Task Force as an affiliate of Emory University and brought on two co-founders, former CDC colleagues Bill Watson and Carol Walters. Within just six years, Task Force partners had quadrupled the share of children worldwide who had received at least one vaccination to 80 percent. Dr. Foege oversaw the growth of The Task Force for 16 years, before retiring in 2000. In 2009, the organization was renamed The Task Force for Global Health.

Task Force Co-Founder Dr. Bill Foege delivers remarks at Task Force's 40th Anniversary celebration on May 9. Photo credit: Dean Hesse

The May 9 40th anniversary celebration featured remarks from dignitaries such as Task Force Co-Founder Dr. William H. Foege, who devised the strategy that eradicated smallpox in 1980 and served as CDC director; U.S. State Department Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong, who leads the Bureau of Global Health Security and Diplomacy; World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; Congresswoman Nikema Williams, who represents Georgia’s Fifth District, home to The Task Force; Task Force CEO Dr. Patrick O’Carroll; Task Force Board Chair Kent Alexander; and Dr. Malembe Ebama, who leads a Task Force program known as SONAR, which helps countries in Africa and Asia build early-warning disease surveillance systems to respond to outbreaks. 

Dr. Foege provided insights on the trajectory of global health over the last 100 years, which will be published in his upcoming book Change Is Possible: Reflections on the History of Global Health.

“Forty years ago The Task Force came, and they used a somewhat different approach, which I call a hybrid organization,” said Dr. Foege. “It did not answer to any global institution, it answered to an expert committee. And now we have dozens of those hybrid organizations and I see that as the future of public health. That asks ‘How do we attack a problem?” and then develops the structure afterward, with public, private, everyone involved in doing this. And the glue is not that you belong to an organization; the glue that holds us together is that everyone shares an outcome that’s been defined.”

You can watch Dr. Foege’s full remarks here.

Attendees listen as Task Force President and CEO Dr. Patrick O'Carroll delivers remarks at Task Force's 40th Anniversary celebration on May 9. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Guests included representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University, The Carter Center,  the Gates Foundation, CDC Foundation, City of Decatur, Agnes Scott College, Morehouse School of Medicine, Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, Merck, Spelman College, DeKalb Public Health Department, and other Task Force partners. 

Ambassador Dr. Nkengasong participated virtually from DC as his Senate confirmation hearing took place the same day. In his remarks, he shared reflections from his experience serving as the first director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as his work leading the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, connecting the lessons of smallpox eradication—led by The Task Force for Global Health co-founder Dr. Bill Foege, who he named as one of his heroes in global health—to the path forward for the global HIV response.

“The question is, how do we move the last number of countries to achieving that goal which we have all stated clearly, and rallied behind—to bring HIV/AIDS to an end by the year 2030?” Dr. Nkengasong reflected. “I think the lessons that are learned from the eradication of smallpox are so essential: be creative. We have to be creative and learn some lessons, some tricks, that Bill Foege and others used in the eradication of smallpox, which is: believe in yourself. Be adventurous in making decisions that may not be popular at the time, but that will yield the impact.” 

You can watch Ambassador Dr. Nkengasong’s full remarks here.

Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong joins virtually via Zoom and delivers remarks at Task Force's 40th Anniversary celebration on May 9. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Task Force Board Chair Kent Alexander acknowledged the many donors who contributed to the capital campaign to fund the William H. Foege Collaboration Center,  where Task Force programs and partners from around the world work together on complex issues, not only current global challenges but emerging ones. New signage at The Task Force headquarters honors Dr. Foege and the donors and board members who contributed.

DeKalb County Commissioner Michelle Spears joined the event, bringing with her an official proclamation from the Commission recognizing The Task Force for its extraordinary contributions to global health and designating May 9, 2024 “Task Force for Global Health Day” in DeKalb County.  Commissioner Spears personally presented the proclamation to CEO Patrick O’Carroll and Co-Founder Dr. William Foege. 

Guests went on guided tours of the William H. Foege Collaboration Center, visited program stations to learn about The Task Force’s nearly 20 programs, and explored a new, permanent lobby exhibit with interactive features that provides a history of The Task Force and also global health milestones from the last four decades. 

During the program Dr. Malembe Ebama, director of The Task Force’s SONAR program that helps countries in Africa and Asia build early-warning disease surveillance systems to respond to outbreaks, spoke of a unique link that she shares with Dr. Foege.

Both participated in the 1990 United Nations Summit for Children, where heads of state from 71 countries joined leaders from UNICEF, WHO and others to celebrate progress in childhood immunization and pledge further support. In a video shown during the program, Dr Foege called the 1990 event a high point in his life since “you had something for children in this world that had not existed the day before.” Dr. Ebama spoke about her role in the UN Summit, when she was 12 years old, participating as part of the delegation from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and escorted the Zairian prime minister to his seat in the United Nations gallery.

“Just as Dr. Foege said he looks back on that 1990 summit as a pivotal moment in child health that shaped the decades to follow, I believe that someday we’ll look back at this post-pandemic era and the work happening now and realize that this, too, was a turning point,” said Dr. Ebama. “Thank you, Dr. Foege, for setting a high bar for all of us who work in public health. And thank you all for your partnership as we work to ensure a world where all people have access to the systems and services that lead to healthy lives.”

Dr. Malembe Ebama, Director of Task Force's SONAR program, delivers remarks at Task Force's 40th Anniversary celebration on May 9. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Dr. Tedros of the World Health Organization shared his remarks via video, as did Congresswoman Nikema Williams, both of whom spoke about their commitment to global health and appreciation for the work of The Task Force.

Dr. Foege expressed his gratitude to the global health community and offered some advice for the future.

“Continue to combine science and do the best you can on science,” he said. “[British scientist Thomas] Huxley said, ’Science is simply common sense at its best.’ You will make mistakes. Correct those mistakes. Don’t try to hide them. And then, in addition to the science, add art. So that you have creative common sense at its best. And finally, add a moral compass, so that you have moral creative common sense at its best.”  

Task Force President and CEO Dr. Patrick O’Carroll concluded the program with a toast.

“Dr. Bill Foege charted a course 40 years ago that has literally and directly benefited millions of people around the world,” said Dr. O’Carroll. “So, here’s to Dr. Foege, surely one of the best and wisest people that any of us has ever known.

The Task Force will be hosting other events with partners throughout the year.

Check out more photos from our May 9 event in the slideshow below.

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Image 1: One of the many Task Force 40th Anniversary banners along W. Ponce de Leon Avenue. Photo credit: Dean Hesse

Image 2: Guests mingling at The 40th Anniversary of The Task Force for Global Health. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Image 3: Attendee viewing The Task Force timeline lobby exhibit documenting 40 years of global health impact. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Image 4: From left to right: Mrs. Mabel Dowdle, Director of The Task Force’s Center for Vaccine Equity Dr. Mark Mckinlay, Dr. Walter Dowdle, and Mectizan® Donation Program Deputy Director Joni Lawrence. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Image 5: Task Force Deputy Director of Communications and Development Ms. Emily Pelton and Dekalb County Commissioner Michelle Spears reading Proclamation recognizing The Task Force for its extraordinary contributions to global health and designating May 9 “Task Force for Global Health Day” in Dekalb County. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Image 6: CEO of Dispensary of Hope Chris Palombo and Director of The Task Force’s MedSurplus Alliance Ms. Lori Warrens. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Image 7: Dr. John Amuasi, Executive Director of the African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases looks at a copy of Dr. Bill Foege’s book, “The Task Force for Child Survival: Secrets of Successful Coalitions” which documents the origin story of The Task Force for Global Health’s work.

Image 8: Hilton Foundation Board Member Conrad N. Hilton III and Task Force President and CEO Dr. Patrick O’Carroll. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Image 9: From left to right: Mrs. Diana Vagelos, former Merck CEO Dr. Roy Vagelos, Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination Director Dr. John Ward, and Mectizan® Donation Program Deputy Director Joni Lawrence. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Image 10: From left to right: Mectizan® Donation Program Director Dr. Yao Sodahlon, former Merck CEO Dr. Roy Vagelos, Mectizan® Donation Program Deputy Director Joni Lawrence, and Task Force Chief Operating Officer Ellen Wild. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Image 11: Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett with a copy of “The Task Force for Child Survival” book. Photo credit: Dean Hesse.

Image 12: Tour of the William H. Foege Collaboration Center led by Task Force employee Caroline Cassard. Photo credit: Dean Hesse

Image 13: From left to right: Former Task Force Board Member Dr. James Curran and Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination Director Dr. John Ward. Photo credit: Dean Hesse

Image 14: From left to right: Former Task Force President and CEO Dr. Mark Rosenberg and Hilton Foundation Board Member Conrad N. Hilton III. Photo credit: Dean Hesse

Image 15: Task Force Co-Founder Dr. Bill Foege. Photo credit: Dean Hesse

Image 16: Regional Director for The Task Force Africa Office in Ethiopia Dr. Teshome Gebre. Photo credit: Dean Hesse 

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