Hilton Prize Winner Works to Eradicate Vaccine-Preventable Disease
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Improving public health in the developing world faces seemingly insurmountable odds. The Task Force for Global Health, or TFGH, is working to change those odds. Last month, CEO Dave Ross accepted on behalf of the organization a $2 million prize from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for its annual Humanitarian Prize.
“The Task Force is about compassion, collaboration, and smart solutions,” said Hilton Foundation CEO Peter Laugharn upon granting the award. “The organization and its partners roll up their sleeves and solve massive global health problems, and they do it without fanfare. This is an organization that, with its partners, is on track to help eliminate three diseases in the next decade. That is something we should all celebrate.”
Dave frames the problem this way: “People who live in extreme poverty survive on less than $1.25 a day and lack access to food, clean water, and basic health services, including immunizations and medicines. Because of their impoverished status, they also are preferentially targeted by infectious diseases that cause blindness, disfigurement, impaired cognition, stunted growth, paralysis, and even death.”
A boy helps Samuel Nicol (age unknown), who was blinded by river blindness, walk through the village of Gbonjeima, Sierra Leone, on Saturday, July 14, 2012. The Task Force for Global Health is working with partners to eliminate river blindness by 2025. Copyright: Olivier Asselin, courtesy of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases.
The TFGH is working to reduce the odds of preventable illnesses, ultimately working to reduce the odds to zero wherever possible.
“The Task Force for Global Health is working to improve the health of people most in need, primarily in developing countries,” Dave says. “The Task Force consists of programs focused on neglected tropical diseases, vaccines, field epidemiology, public health informatics, and health workforce development.”
The work isn’t easy and there is no guarantee of success. The obstacles that stand in the way seem too large to overcome.
Dave says, “The Task Force faces four types of challenges in its work. They include:
Coordinating and managing complex disease control and elimination programs at significant scales;
Maintaining these programs in countries with conflict and unrest;
Addressing scientific challenges to disease control and elimination; and
Keeping international attention and resources focused on addressing diseases of extreme poverty.”
Ultimately, the size of the problem is the biggest challenge, meaning that the organization needs help to achieve its mission.
“The massive scale of these problems represents the biggest challenge to The Task Force’s work and makes it impossible for us to address them alone. Collaboration is essential to solving global health problems that affect billions of people around the world,” Dave adds.
The benefits of success could tremendously outweigh the costs to get there, however. Once eradicated, a disease will never kill or maim another child.
“Disease eradication is often considered the holy grail of public health because its benefits extend to everyone, both current and future generations. In communities affected by these diseases, fear of the future has been replaced with hope for lives free of debilitating diseases and suffering. The humanitarian impact of The Task Force’s work extends beyond alleviating the burden of diseases that have plague humanity for millennia. Ending these diseases has long-term implications for the development of poor countries,” Dave concludes.
On Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at 3:00 Eastern, Dave will join me here for a live discussion about the Hilton Prize, the work of the TFGH and a future free of vaccine preventable disease. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
Dave Ross, courtesy of the Task Force for Global Health
More about the Task Force for Global Health:
The Task Force for Global Health is an international, nonprofit organization that works to improve health of people most in need, primarily in developing countries. Founded in 1984 by global health pioneer Bill Foege, The Task Force consists of programs focused on neglected tropical diseases, vaccines, field epidemiology, public health informatics, and health workforce development. The Task Force works in partnership with ministries of health and hundreds of organizations, including major pharmaceutical companies that donate billions of dollars annually in essential medicines. Major funders include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, de Beaumont Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development, Sightsavers, Pfizer, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and GSK. The Task Force team consists of 120 scientists, program experts, logisticians, and other global health professionals. It is affiliated with Emory University, headquartered in Decatur, Georgia, and has regional offices in Guatemala and Ethiopia. The Task Force currently supports work in 151 countries.
Dave Ross, ScD, is president and chief executive officer (CEO) of The Task Force for Global Health. In this role, Dr. Ross provides strategic direction to The Task Force and oversees seven programs focused on neglected tropical diseases, vaccines, field epidemiology, and public health informatics. He assumed leadership of The Task Force on May 1, 2016, after 16 years as director of The Task Force’s Public Health Informatics Institute (PHII) and its predecessor All Kids Count.
For more than 35 years, Dr. Ross has led collaborative programs to strengthen information capacity of public health systems in the United States and other countries. In addition to his non-profit experience, he has worked in the public and private sectors on both healthcare delivery and medical informatics.
Dr. Ross launched PHII in 2002 and spearheaded its growth to become internationally recognized in the field of public health informatics, a discipline that focuses on using information to improve health outcomes. Today, PHII has a $7.4-million annual budget with a diverse portfolio of domestic and international programs supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and top-tier national foundations. Most recently, PHII partnered with the Emory Global Health Institute on a major initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help understand and ultimately address the causes of death and serious illness for children under 5 in developing countries. This initiative will last at least 20 years and may commit more than $1 billion in funding to support improved disease surveillance.
Dr. Ross is a thought leader and one of the pioneers of public health informatics. He was founding director of CDC’s first national initiative to improve the information infrastructure of public health in the United States. Dr. Ross also has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and frequently serves on national panels focused on public health informatics. He co-chaired “Data for Health,” a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation initiative that is exploring how information and data on health can be harnessed to help people lead healthier lives. Before joining The Task Force, Dr. Ross held leadership, administrative, and corporate consultant roles with the U.S. Public Health Service, CDC, a private hospital system in Maryland, and one of the largest health information technology firms. Dr. Ross holds a doctor of science degree in operations research from The Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!
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