William Foege

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William Foege
10th Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
In office
May 1977 – 1983
PresidentJimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
Preceded byDavid Sencer
Succeeded byJames Mason
Personal details
Born (1936-03-12) March 12, 1936 (age 88)
Decorah, Iowa, U.S.
SpousePaula Foege
EducationPacific Lutheran University (BA)
University of Washington (MD)
Harvard University (MPH)
AwardsCalderone Prize (1996)
Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize

William Herbert Foege[1] (/ˈfɡi/;[2] fay-ghee; born March 12, 1936) is an American physician and epidemiologist who is credited with "devising the global strategy that led to the eradication of smallpox in the late 1970s".[3] From May 1977 to 1983, Foege served as the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Foege also "played a central role" in efforts that greatly increased immunization rates in developing countries in the 1980s.[4]

In June 2011, he authored House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox, a book on modern science, medicine, and public health over the smallpox disease.[5]

On September 23, 2020, he sent a private letter to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert R. Redfield urging him to acknowledge in writing that the CDC had responded poorly to COVID-19 and to set a new course for how CDC would lead the United States' response, calling the White House's approach "disastrous."[6]

Early life[edit]

Foege was born March 12[citation needed] 1936 in Decorah, Iowa.[7] He was the third of six children born to William A. Foege, a Lutheran minister, and Anne Erika Foege.[8] The family lived in Eldorado, Iowa in Fayette County, starting in 1936 and moved to Chewelah, Washington, in 1945.[8]

In his younger days he was inspired by the life of his uncle, a Lutheran missionary to New Guinea.[4] He became interested in science at age 13 when working at a pharmacy, and read extensively about the world (e.g., Albert Schweitzer's work in Africa) while in a body cast for several months at age 15.[9] When a teenager he expressed a desire to practice medicine in Africa.[4]


Foege received a B.A. from Pacific Lutheran University in 1957.[10] He attended medical school at the University of Washington, where he became interested in public health while working "after school and on Saturdays" at the Seattle–King County Health Department.[9] After receiving his M.D. in 1961, he completed an internship with the United States Public Health Service hospital at Staten Island in 1961–1962.[citation needed]

He participated in the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between 1962 and 1964, assigned to Colorado.[11][12] When Foege was with the EIS, he was inspired by Alexander Langmuir to pursue global health, and spent a short time with the Peace Corps in India under Charles Snead Houston. Upon reading a lecture on priorities in public health by Thomas Huckle Weller,[13] Foege entered the Master of Public Health program at the Harvard School of Public Health where he studied with Weller.[9] He received his M.P.H. in 1965.[10]

Smallpox eradication[edit]

While working for the Centers for Disease Control in Africa as Chief of the Smallpox Eradication Program, Bill Foege developed the highly successful surveillance and ring vaccination strategy to contain smallpox spread. This greatly reduced the number of vaccinations needed, ensuring that the limited resources available sufficed to make smallpox the first infectious disease to be eradicated in human history.[citation needed]

For his efforts to eradicate smallpox, Foege was the co-winner of the 2020 Future of Life Award along with Viktor Zhdanov. "We're all indebted to Bill Foege and Viktor Zhdanov for their critical contributions to the eradication of smallpox, which demonstrated the immense value of science and international collaboration for fighting disease", said António Guterres, Secretary General, United Nations.[14] Dr. William MacAskill who wrote an article about "Smallpox was one of the worst diseases to ever befall the human race, and its eradication is one of the greatest achievements of humanity. Bill Foege and Viktor Zhdanov should be celebrated for their contributions, and should inspire us today to take effective action to tackle the world's most pressing problems."[15] In consideration of the achievements of Zhdanov and Foege, Bill Gates added, "They (Viktor and Bill) are phenomenal examples of what it means to harness science for global health”.[16]


Foege's research includes child survival and development, injury prevention, population, preventive medicine, and public health leadership—particularly in the developing world. He is a strong proponent of disease eradication and control and has taken an active role in the eradication of Guinea Worm Disease, polio and measles, and the elimination of river blindness.[17]

In May 1977, he became the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,[18] and served until 1983.

Directorship aside, he has also held various positions during his career:

Personal life[edit]

He is noted for his height of 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m).[3][25] Foege and his wife Paula had three sons, the eldest of whom died in 2007.[26] He has been described as a "religious man";[27][28] between 1997 and 2006 he served on the Board of Regents of Pacific Lutheran University.[29][30]

Awards and honors[edit]

Selected publications[edit]

Books and book chapters[edit]

  • Foege WH, Amler RW (1987). "Introduction and methods". In Amler RW, Dull HB (eds.). Closing the gap: the burden of unnecessary illness. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505483-0. OCLC 16755579.
  • Foege WH. "Foreword." In: Albert Schweitzer (1998). The primeval forest. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press in association with The Albert Schweitzer Institute for the Humanities. ISBN 0-8018-5958-1. OCLC 38925138.
  • Ross DA, Hinman AR, Saarlas K, Foege WH (2003). "Foreword". In O'Carroll PW, et al. (eds.). Public health informatics and information systems. Berlin: Springer. pp. v–vii. ISBN 0-387-95474-0. OCLC 133157982.
  • Foege WH; et al., eds. (2005). Global health leadership and management. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-7879-7153-7. OCLC 57579300.
  • Foege WH (June 2011). House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-26836-4.
  • Foege WH (2018). The Fears of the Rich, the Needs of the Poor: My Years at the CDC. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-1-421-42529-0.

Journal articles[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Crimson Staff (June 5, 1997). "Eleven granted honorary degrees". The Harvard Crimson. Archived from the original on February 15, 2006. Retrieved September 29, 2009.
  2. ^ Hagen R (May 8, 2006). "Say how? A pronunciation guide to names of public figures". National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Paulson T (March 9, 2006). "Carter hails UW's shy hero Foege. New building named for health leader is dedicated". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d Kim JY (November 12, 2007). "America's best leaders. William H. Foege, physician. A lifelong battle against disease". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  5. ^ "President Obama honors William Foege, Emory professor emeritus, with prestigious award". Woodruff Health Sciences Center. May 29, 2012.
  6. ^ Murphy, Brett and Letitia Stein (October 6, 2020). ""It is a slaughter": Infectious disease icon asks CDC director to expose White House, orchestrate his own firing". USA Today. Retrieved October 7, 2020.
  7. ^ a b "William H. Foege to receive Public Welfare Medal, Academy's highest honor". National Academy of Sciences. January 26, 2005. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  8. ^ a b Maynard S (October 7, 1998). "Families that work – an occasional series: Rev. William A. Foege's family never had much money, and never felt deprived". The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington).
  9. ^ a b c Foege WH (October 2001). "The wonder that is global health" (PDF). Nat Med. 7 (10): 1095–6. doi:10.1038/nm1001-1095. PMID 11590422. S2CID 29636271. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 16, 2011. Retrieved October 6, 2009.
  10. ^ a b "William Foege, Affiliate Professor, Epidemiology". University of Washington School of Public Health. Retrieved September 30, 2009.
  11. ^ "William H. Foege, MD, MPH, assumes APHA presidency". Am J Public Health. 76 (2): 208. 1986. doi:10.2105/AJPH.76.2.124.
  12. ^ Graham K, Heys S (December 12, 1985). "A global vision to save millions – William Foege wants all world's children immunized by 1990". The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution.
  13. ^ Weller TH (September 1963). "Questions of priority". N Engl J Med. 269 (13): 673–8. doi:10.1056/NEJM196309262691306. PMID 14050972.
  14. ^ Guterres, António (November 16, 2020). "Future of Life Institute Award". Future of Life Institute.
  15. ^ MacAskill, William (November 16, 2020). "Future of Life Award". Future of Life Institute.
  16. ^ Gates, Bill (November 16, 2020). "Future of Life Award". Future of Life Institute.
  17. ^ "William Foege -Department Faculty". Archived from the original on August 17, 2004.
  18. ^ Altman, Lawrence K.; Weiss, Scott; Klieger, Sarah B.; Fitzgerald, Julie; Balamuth, Fran; Kubis, Sherri; Tolomeo, Pam; Bilker, Warren; Han, Xiaoyan (April 17, 1977). "DISEASE UNIT PLANS BIG RE-EVALUATION". The New York Times. Vol. 2, no. suppl_1. doi:10.1093/ofid/ofv131.117. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 12, 2021.
  19. ^ Miller, Andy. "Decatur-based Task Force for Global Healthsaves children's lives". Archived from the original on August 28, 2016. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  20. ^ Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "William Foege, M.D., M.P.H". Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  21. ^ a b Emory University. "Emory Global Health Institute Advisory Board. William H. Foege, MD, MPH". Archived from the original on June 11, 2013. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  22. ^ Rollins School of Public Health. "William H. Foege". Archived from the original on June 13, 2010. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  23. ^ a b The Carter Center. "William Foege, M.D., M.P.H". Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  24. ^ Parloff, Roger (April 7, 2016). "Theranos Adds Startlingly Well-Qualified Medical Board". Fortune. Retrieved April 14, 2016.
  25. ^ Holohan M (July 2006). "Bill Foege: Another mountain to climb". Lens: A New Way of Looking at Science. Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Retrieved September 30, 2009.
  26. ^ Paulson T (April 28, 2007). "David Foege, 1962–2007: Vashon mourns teacher's death". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  27. ^ Preston R (2003). The demon in the freezer. New York: Random House. p. 74. ISBN 0-345-46663-2.
  28. ^ Panem S (1988). The AIDS bureaucracy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 33. ISBN 0-674-01271-2.
  29. ^ "Board news". Pacific Lutheran Scene. Summer 1998. Archived from the original on May 2, 2014. Retrieved September 29, 2009.
  30. ^ "Commencement moved venues, accomplished alum spoke". Pacific Lutheran University. May 17, 2006. Archived from the original on July 11, 2010. Retrieved September 29, 2009.
  31. ^ "Past Lilienfeld Awardees". American College of Epidemiology. Archived from the original on January 18, 2009. Retrieved September 28, 2009.
  32. ^ "Fries Prize for Improving Health recipients". James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation. Retrieved September 28, 2009.
  33. ^ "Sedgwick Memorial Medal". American Public Health Association. Archived from the original on March 31, 2010. Retrieved September 28, 2009.
  34. ^ "Calderone prize. Past award recipients". Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. Retrieved September 28, 2009. [dead link]
  35. ^ "Research Report 1998" (PDF). London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 7, 2007. Retrieved September 28, 2009.
  36. ^ "Foege receives honorary doctorate, exhorts Class of 2000". Pacific Lutheran University Scene. Summer 2000.
  37. ^ "2001 Wittenberg Award recipient Dr. William Foege". The Luther Institute. Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved September 28, 2009.
  38. ^ Strauss E (2001). "Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service. Award description. William Foege". Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. Archived from the original on January 15, 2016. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  39. ^ "C-E.A. Winslow Medal presented to William H. Foege October 28". Yale University. Archived from the original on July 14, 2012. Retrieved September 28, 2009.
  40. ^ "The Thomas Francis, Jr. Medal in Global Public Health. The 50th anniversary program – April 12, 2005". University of Michigan. April 12, 2005. Archived from the original on October 1, 2009. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  41. ^ "Honorary degrees". Yale Bulletin & Calendar. June 10, 2005. Archived from the original on August 3, 2009. Retrieved September 29, 2009.
  42. ^ "Gold Medal Award". Sabin Vaccine Institute. Archived from the original on August 14, 2012. Retrieved September 28, 2009.
  43. ^ Kabak V (November 1, 2006). "Public health school bestows top honor". The Harvard Crimson.
  44. ^ "Awards". National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Archived from the original on July 13, 2010. Retrieved September 29, 2009.
  45. ^ "William H. Foege to receive Research!America Advocacy Award". Research!America. Archived from the original on March 18, 2012. Retrieved September 28, 2009.
  46. ^ "CDC Foundation events". Retrieved September 30, 2009.
  47. ^ "Ivan Allen, Jr. Prize Recipients". Archived from the original on January 21, 2012. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
  48. ^ "President Obama Names Presidential Medal Freedom Recipients". whitehouse.gov. April 26, 2012. Retrieved April 30, 2012 – via National Archives.
  49. ^ "Richard and Barbara Hansen Leadership Award and Distinguished Lecture". Retrieved October 24, 2012.
  50. ^ "Future of Life Award". November 16, 2020.

External links[edit]