Seattle's William Foege wins Presidential Medal of Freedom

Apr 27, 2012

President Obama has announced the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Among the honorees is William Foege. The Vashon Island doctor developed a vaccination plan that wiped out small pox.

Foege administered vaccines as a medical missionary in Nigeria. He found infected people through interviews, photos, and even offered rewards. That strategy was successfully applied in other poor countries, saving millions of lives. In a recent interview, KPLU's Humanosphere reporter Tom Paulson asked Foege if he ever worried that by making people healthier, they wouldn't just end up living longer lives of poverty. Foege said poverty and health influence each other:

"Poverty is the single most important factor in health. On the other hand, improving health can reduce poverty because the farmer who is not suffering from malaria or Guinea worm or a hundred other diseases is more productive."

Foege went on to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and remains a senior fellow at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He is one of two Northwest honorees. The other is the late Gordon Hirabayashi, a Seattle native who refused to be sent to an internment camp during World War II. The Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony will take place at the White House later this spring.