I think that global public health workers are some of the most inspiring and dedicated professionals I’ve ever encountered. That’s probably why I’ve invited a number of them to sit down over the past couple of years for interviews for “Two Way Street.”
Last year, I talked with Dr. Ian Crozier, who went into the makeshift quarantine hospital tents in Sierra Leone to treat victims of the raging Ebola epidemic and came out with one of the most severe cases of Ebola anyone had seen. Crozier was treated at Emory Hospital by another public health hero, who was also on "Two Way Street," Dr. Jay Varkey, who struggled to find treatments to save Crozier’s life and finally hit upon an approach that brought him back from near death.
I also spent an hour talking with one of the greatest public health heroes of our time: Dr. Bill Foege. As an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control, Foege was credited with devising the strategy that wiped smallpox off the face of the earth – the first time a disease was completely eradicated. If you go to the website scienceheroes.com, you’ll find Foege listed as one of the top 10 doctors in number of lives saved – 131 million people lived thanks to his leadership in destroying the smallpox virus. Foege went on to become the director of CDC, and served as a role model and inspiration for countless doctors who worked for him there.
One of those doctors is our guest today. Dr. Mark Rosenberg worked under Bill Foege as a young doctor at CDC, starting as an epidemiologist – a disease detective – but eventually was given control of a new division Foege created to examine data on injury control and prevention. As you will hear in our conversation, that didn’t work out so well! Rosenberg went on to become the president and CEO of the Task Force for Global Health, based in Decatur and founded by Foege after he left his job as national director of CDC.
I got to know Mark in the most informal way possible: he worked out on a machine down the line from me at the gym we both used to try to stay in shape. As we began talking, he shared bits and pieces about his job at this “task force” where he worked, and which I had never heard of. It sounded like a nice little organization, and Mark, modest as I later learned him to always be, never did mention that the Task Force for Global Health happens to be the largest charitable organization in the state of Georgia – with annual gifts of more than $1.5 billion, and one of the top 10 in the United States! The Task Force houses a number of programs that treat neglected diseases around the world. According to their latest annual report, they’ve treated some 400 million people in 135 countries. It is perhaps the best-kept secret in Georgia’s non-profit community.
So yes, Mark is a friend – a former gym buddy and a man I’ve come to respect enormously. He is kind and compassionate, has an odd but affecting sense of humor, and has built the Task Force into an organization of enormous reach and life-saving value.
The first time I visited him at his offices in Decatur and saw the remarkable range of the work being done there, it took my breath away. As you listen to his stories, I hope you are as impressed and inspired as I was the day I walked through the Task Force’s front door.