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Epidemiologist who Helped Eradicate Smallpox to Give the 2010 Shilling Lecture

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    Bill Foege (photo courtesy of Brian Smale) http://pa.photoshelter.com/c/briansmalephoto/gallery/Bill-Foege-Gates-Foundation-2006/G00009AjzB7KuzD0
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    Dr. William Foege speaks to students during his visit to Southwestern (Photo by Carlos Barron).

Lecture to be held March 11

Dr. William H. Foege (“FAY-ghee”), an epidemiologist who has been credited with eliminating smallpox around the world, will give the 2010 Shilling Lecture at Southwestern University. The lecture will be held Thursday, March 11, at 7 p.m. in the Alma Thomas Theater. Foege has titled his lecture “How to get wise before you get old.”

Dr. Foege earned a medical degree from the University of Washington School of Medicine and a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University. In 1962, he joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which was then known as the U.S. Communicable Disease Center.

In the 1970s, Dr. Foege worked on the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox. By determining likely routes of disease transmission, travel patterns and familial relationships, Dr. Foege and his colleagues proved that targeting these critical areas helped to contain the spread of smallpox more effectively than mass vaccination.

In the 1980s, Dr. Foege played a central role in efforts that greatly increased immunization rates in developing countries. Much of this was done through the Task Force for Child Survival, a working group that Dr. Foege and several colleagues founded for the World Health Organization, UNICEF, The World Bank, the United Nations Development Program and the Rockefeller Foundation.

A 2009 book titled Scientists greater than Einstein: the biggest lifesavers of the twentieth century estimated that Foege’s work has saved the lives of more than 122 million people worldwide.

Dr. Foege was appointed director of the CDC in 1977and served as director until 1983.

From 1986 to 1992, Dr. Foege served as executive director of the Carter Center in Atlanta and headed its Global 2000 program, which, among other projects, sought to eliminate “river blindness,” a parasitic disease that is a major cause of blindness in Africa.

In 1997, Dr. Foege joined the faculty of Emory University as presidential distinguished professor of international health at the Rollins School of Public Health. In 1999, he  became a senior medical advisor for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gives more than $1 billion each year to public health efforts around the world.

Dr. Foege has received numerous awards for his work, including the World Health Organization’s Health for All Medal, the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Support of Medical Research and Health Sciences, and the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. He has been awarded honorary degrees from several schools – including Harvard and Yale – and was named a fellow of the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 1997.

In 2006, the University of Washington dedicated a new building that houses its departments of genome sciences and bioengineering in Dr. Foege’s honor. A $70 million gift to the university by the Gates Foundation enabled the university to construct the building.

In November 2007, Dr. Foege was identified as one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News & World Report and the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The magazine stated that “…arguably more than anyone else, it is Foege who has built the foundation for the recent explosive progress in the field of global health.”

Dr. Foege has broadened public awareness of public health issues by writing and lecturing extensively. He is currently writing a book titled House on Fire that will deal with the eradication of smallpox. The book’s title is derived from the concept that if a house is on fire you put water on that house and not the others – a technique he applied to smallpox vaccination.

The Shilling Lecture Series at Southwestern University was established in 1999 by The Brown Foundation Inc. of Houston to honor Southwestern’s 13th president, Roy B. Shilling Jr., and his wife, Margaret. The series brings to campus internationally prominent speakers on topics relating to ethics, public service and public policy. Past speakers include Wangari Maathai, Bill Bradley, James Baker III, Thomas Kean, Benazir Bhutto, Desmond Tutu, Bill Moyers, President Jimmy Carter, Marian Wright Edelman, William Sloane Coffin, John McGuire and Karen Hughes.

Tickets for the lecture will be available first to members of the Southwestern community. If there are any remaining tickets, they will be available to the general public for $10 on March 5. Tickets may be requested by sending a message to shillinglecture@southwestern.edu.  

Members of the public who are not able to purchase tickets may watch a simulcast of the lecture in Room 105 of the F.W. Olin Building for no charge. The lecture will also be streamed on the Southwestern Web site. For details on how to watch the lecture online, visit the Shilling Lecture Webcast page.

Pre-lecture Events

Several events have been scheduled in advance of the lecture. On Feb. 22, Barbara Anthony, assistant professor of computer science, and Martin Gonzalez, associate professor of biology, will give a Faculty Forum in which they will discuss the origins of smallpox and the strategy developed by Dr. Foege to isolate and eventually eliminate the virus from the human population. They will also discuss one of the common mathematical models for predicting the spread of infectious diseases such as the flu.

On March 3, Kathy Troisi, an immunologist who serves as director of public health practice for the city of Houston, will give a talk on how cities prepare for public health crises such as H1N1 virus. The talk will begin at 4 p.m. in Olin 105.

On March 10, the Alumni Office and Career Services are sponsoring a program for students about careers in public health. The program will feature Southwestern alumni who are now working in public health. The panel will begin at 4 p.m. in the Howry Center.

The day of the lecture, Dr. Foege will speak with students at 9 a.m. in the Caldwell-Carvey Foyer.

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