Leading to a Cure


Imagine a highly contagious, lethal disease completely wiping out every man, woman, and child in the United States. Sounds like the plotline for a Sci-Fi horror flick, doesn’t it?

Sadly, in the 20th century, smallpox claimed 300 to 500 million lives worldwide – more than the entire population of the USA.

Smallpox was a gruesome disease. It’s victims contracted large blisters inside their mouths and on their hands and feet. Shortly thereafter, the blisters spread throughout the body. In fatal cases, the blisters would merge together and peel skin away from the victim’s underlying flesh. Historical photographs showing the disfigurement of victims are simultaneously shocking and heart-wrenching.

As tragic as the story of smallpox may be, it has a happy ending, thanks to the heroic work of American physician, William H. Foege. For his contributions eradicating smallpox, Foege was named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Reports.


As a child, William Foege quickly developed an aptitude for science. Inspired by his uncle, a missionary to New Guinea, Foege also cultivated altruistic instincts. By the time he was 13, he announced his intention to serve as a doctor in Africa.

Making good on his pledge, Foege moved to Nigeria to provide health care in a rural village. After enlisting in the U.S. effort to curb smallpox in the region, Foege was soon confronted with a brutal reality. He did not have nearly enough vaccinations to keep pace with the spread of the virus.

Considering his options, Foege came to a novel conclusion. If he focused his efforts on places with high volumes of human interaction, he could slow the virus’ ability to spread. He quickly set about immunizing urban centers and marketplaces. Even visitors to those areas were vaccinated. The strategy worked amazingly well. Whole neighborhoods, and soon, entire cities, were cleansed of smallpox.

In recognition of his expertise, the Center of Disease Control selected Foege to oversee their worldwide initiative to combat smallpox. He implemented his tactics across the globe, and by 1979 the World Health Organization proudly declared that smallpox had been eradicated. Thanks to Foege’s leadership, millions of lives were spared the deadly effects of the virus.


For an encore, Foege convinced Merck pharmaceutical company to distribute its innovative drug, ivermectin, for free in Africa. The drug prevents river blindness, a disease impairing the vision of its victims. Thanks to the public/private partnership Foege built with Merck, river blindness is rapidly declining in Africa. Hopefully, like smallpox, one day it will cease to be a threat.

Currently, Foege is partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to stem the spread of other infectious diseases around the world. A hero in the field of medicine, Foege has inspired a generation of public health workers, and he has given hope to those who battle against the deadliest diseases of our day.

To read more about William Foege’s contribution to global health, you can visit the website of U.S. News and World Reports.



"The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already." ~ John Buchan

"Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion. The potential for greatness lives within each of us." ~ Wilma Rudolph

"Focus on your potential instead of your limitations." ~ Alan Loy McGinnis

"If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never." ~ Soren Kierkegaard

On this day…

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