U-M awards first Thomas Francis Jr. Medal to William Foege
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—The University of Michigan will award its new Thomas Francis, Jr. Medal in Global Public Health to Dr. William Foege, who played a key role in a pioneering strategy to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. During a distinguished career, Foege was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, executive director of The Carter Center and senior adviser to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The medal carries a prize of $50,000 and is funded by private gifts to the University.
The University will award the medal April 12 during the 50th anniversary celebration of the watershed announcement by Francis that the Salk polio vaccine had been proven effective. The event will be held in U-M's Rackham Auditorium, site of the original pronouncement. A keynote address by Foege (FAY ghee), an historical retrospective about polio, and views of global public health today will comprise the program. The ceremony begins at 9:30 a.m. and is open to the public. For more information, visit: www.polio.umich.edu.
"The Thomas Francis, Jr. Medal symbolizes the University's commitment to global public health and its pride in the role Francis played in ending the polio epidemic in the U.S.," said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. "William Foege, like Thomas Francis, is a hero in the field of public health. He embodies the dedication, record of achievement and humanitarian qualities the medal was created to honor.
"The University of Michigan has created the Thomas Francis, Jr. Medal to support sustained efforts to combat vaccine-preventable disease and to call public attention to the needs that still exist," Coleman said.
Francis made the dramatic announcement the morning of April 12, 1955 that the polio vaccine had been found "safe, effective and potent." Francis was the founder and chair of U-M's epidemiology department in the School of Public Health and one of the most respected medical and research figures of his generation. He designed and led a $17.5 million nationwide field trial of unprecedented scope to test the vaccine. The study involved 1.8 million children from the United States, Canada and Finland. Workers at the U-M Survey Research Center handled the mountains of data on 1.8 million computer punch cards. Dr. Jonas Salk, who earlier had studied under Francis at the University of Michigan, and Salk's team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh developed the vaccine.
Foege is an epidemiologist who became chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Smallpox Eradication Program in the 1970s. He served as director of the CDC from 1977 to 1983.
As a medical missionary in Nigeria in 1966, Foege faced a fast-moving outbreak of smallpox without enough vaccine to protect the population in the traditional manner of inoculating as many members of a population as one can reach. Instead, he and his colleagues invented a new approach that modeled the most likely routes of transmission by geography, travel patterns and familial relationships and then contained the outbreak by focusing the limited amount of vaccine on just three hot spots.
During another smallpox outbreak in India in 1973, Foege, then chief of the CDC's smallpox eradication program, again proved that targeted containment vaccination worked better than mass vaccination. In a year, India went from a country with the highest rate of smallpox to zero cases. Since then, his approach has become the standard of care for controlling outbreaks of emerging disease. In 1979, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated.
"In terms of lives saved and people freed from disease, Dr. Foege has changed the world as we know it," said Noreen Clark, dean of the School of Public Health. "He exemplifies the principles that are at the core of public health."
From 1984 to 2000, Foege served as executive director of the Task Force for Child Survival and Development, which raised general immunization levels of the world's children from 20 percent to 80 percent in just six years. He joined The Carter Center in 1986 as its executive director, fellow for health policy and executive director of Global 2000.
Foege became Presidential Distinguished Professor of International Health in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in 1997. He was awarded the Mary Woodard Lasker Award, "America's Nobel," for Public Service in Support of Medical Research and Health Sciences in 2001.
Foege became a senior adviser to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1999. He has since retired and now serves as a fellow at the foundation. To honor his lifetime of achievement, the Gates Foundation made a gift of $5 million in 2004 to endow the Foege Fellowship in Public Health at Emory University.
Foege received his medical degree from the University of Washington Medical School in 1961 and his master's in public health from Harvard University in 1965.
Contact: Colleen Newvine