Decatur nonprofit has helped save millions of children’s lives

An unassuming brick building in Decatur houses a low-profile organization that has made big accomplishments in improving people’s health.

Task Force for Global Health’s 30 years of work was marked at a conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta on Monday.

The organization’s founder, Dr. Bill Foege, was honored for his work in expanding public health. A former CDC director, Foege is widely credited with organizing the global strategy that eradicated smallpox.

“Bill has saved millions of lives,’’ said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, the president and CEO of the Task Force for Global Health.

Rosenberg noted that for example, India went from 87,000 cases of smallpox in 1973 to zero cases in the spring of 1975.

Recently, the Task Force, the CDC and a group of Georgia Tech students produced a new Excel-based tool that can help a nation distribute health care workers more efficiently within its territory — ensuring that the sickest people have access to care. It’s being piloted in Mozambique, which has a high HIV rate and a shortage of health care workers.

The Task Force has worked to improve global immunization rates and the overall health of children since its founding in the 1980s.

In 1984, less than 20 percent of the world’s children had been immunized against preventable diseases, resulting in the deaths of 2 million children each year. By 1990, global vaccination rates reached 80 percent of the world’s children.

The Task Force has also brought organizations and resources together to lower rates of tropical diseases. It helped arrange for free medications for some diseases, such as mectizan for river blindness. The central goal, as envisioned by Foege, is “global health equity.”

The Task Force, Georgia’s largest nonprofit, reaches an estimated 495 million people in 135 countries through its programs.

Dave Ross, who will take over as CEO for the retiring Rosenberg, said that the fundamental values of the Task Force — compassion, collaboration, stewardship and global health equity — will not change.

Business mogul and philanthropist Bill Gates said in a video tribute Monday that the Task Force has helped bring about “huge reductions in childhood deaths.”

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Andy Miller is CEO and editor of Georgia Health News. This story was done in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.