Dr. Bill Foege: A Giant in Public Health

Earlier this week, Bill Gates published a blog post about his global health mentor Dr. William (Bill) Foege, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director and a legend in the world of public health. At 6 feet 7 inches, Dr. Foege is certainly tall. But fighting disease and poverty over the last six decades—including playing a central role in the eradication of smallpox—has made him a giant in global health.

In the post, Gates recounts his favorite story about Dr. Foege, the day Dr. Foege arrived in a remote Nigerian village to vaccinate everyone against smallpox. Dr. Foege had not anticipated a large turnout and was surprised when several thousand showed up to be vaccinated. According to Gates, when Dr. Foege asked the chief how he got so many people to turn out, the chief replied, "I told everyone to come and see the tallest man in the world." Read more in the full Gates Notes blog.

Bill Gates recently sat down with Dr. Foege in Atlanta, where they talked about smallpox and the progress made in global health. Watch the full video below.

While in the news today we learn about so much that is wrong with the world, I find it incredibly heartening and inspiring to see how one person working with others can have such a positive impact. 

That’s nothing new for Dr. Foege. In fact, did you know that the idea for the CDC Foundation came from several previous CDC directors and public health luminaries, including Dr. Foege? These leaders saw the power of breaking down siloes between sectors to bring together the resources, flexibility and nimbleness that are needed in the field to move the needle on critical public health topics.

From his own experience, Dr. Foege knew that private-sector support could enhance government funding. However, equally important, he also knew that private-sector support could not supplant government funding. Together, though, the public and private sectors can come together around important public health issues to do some amazing things—from smallpox to polio, Ebola and heart disease.

Thanks to Bill Gates, a public health hero in his own right, for highlighting one of his own heroes, Dr. Bill Foege. 


Judy Monroe, MD, is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.