President Barack Obama named William Foege, professor emeritus at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, one of 13 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom on April 26. The Medal of Freedom is the nation’s “highest civilian honor,” according to an April 26 White House press release.
According to the press release, the Medal of Freedom, which will be presented to the recipients later this spring at the White House, honors individuals who have made important contributions to U.S. security and national interests, world peace or “cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Obama selected Foege, according to the White House statement, because “[his] leadership has contributed significantly to increased awareness and action on global health issues, and his enthusiasm, energy and effectiveness in these endeavors have inspired a generation of leaders in public health.”
Foege could not be reached for comment by press time.
Foege, who in addition to a professor is also a physician and epidemiologist, was involved in developing the vaccine that eradicated smallpox in the 1970s. According to an April 27 press release from Congressman Jim McDermott in Washington — which is where Foege went to medical school —, Foege was a medical missionary in Nigeria.
It was during Foege’s time as a missionary that he first encountered smallpox. Foege ultimately developed a strategy called “surveillance and containment” to combat the spread of the disease.
The strategy consisted of a network of radios and people that reported possibly infected individuals and sent a team to the area to prevent the spread of the disease.
He has also served as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and co-founder of the Task Force for Child Survival, known today as the Task Force for Global Health. The Task Force is a non-profit public health organization based in Atlanta that aims to establish plans for global humanitarian efforts and develop support for healthy lifestyles for children and adults, according to the organization’s website.
In addition, Foege was appointed executive director of the Carter Center in 1986 and is now a senior fellow, and has also played a role in the developing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s global health work.
“These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our nation,” Obama said in the White House press release. “They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award.”
In receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year, Foege joins Madeline Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state; Bob Dylan, whom the press release describes as “one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century;” Jan Karski, a Polish Underground officer during World War II who delivered one of the first eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to the rest of the world; and Juliette Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, among others.
— Contact Jordan Friedman