Working Together to Meet Complex Health Challenges
By Pierce Nelson, vice president for Communications, CDC Foundation
In the United States and across the globe, society faces urgent health challenges. In some cases, governments are able to meet these challenges independently. In most cases, however, solving complex health challenges—whether treating and preventing long-term chronic disease or fighting unexpected outbreaks—requires the support of the public, philanthropic and private sectors working together.
I was reminded of this recently when I heard a speech by our President and CEO Charles Stokes at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business Terry Third Thursday event. In his remarks at the November event, Charlie discussed how the thinking on partnerships had evolved during the past 50 years.
“In the past, government had the good fortune of being able to pay for much of what it needed to do, while business and philanthropy could focus on their own issues independently,” he said. “Today, we are in a flatter world with fewer resources. We cannot afford to paint each other into separate corners.”
A poignant example Charlie shared is the West Africa Ebola epidemic and response. From the CDC Foundation’s perspective, this effort began when CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden requested our assistance in finding support for the agency’s Ebola response. The CDC Foundation immediately activated our Global Disaster Response Fund.
“In crisis situations, CDC may not initially have access to all of the government funding needed for a full response or may be limited in how it can spend funds,” Charlie noted. “A central objective of our disaster fund is to help CDC staff respond quickly to changing circumstances and needs.”
For CDC’s response, the CDC Foundation raised $56 million, primarily over the span of five months. This funding supported work in infection control, lab screenings, border health, health promotion and a vaccine trial in Sierra Leone. Donations were provided by individuals and organizations, such as The Paul G. Allen Ebola Program, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, HCA, and many others. (A recent CDC Foundation video provides perspective on this response.)
In recalling trips to West Africa taken earlier this year Charlie said, “Everywhere we went CDC staff expressed their gratitude for the speed, flexibility and practical application of the funding provided by our donors. In times of crisis, flexible, unrestricted resources are crucial. For CDC, knowing they would have funds that could very quickly be mobilized made a tremendous difference in catching up with an epidemic that was raging in the late summer and fall of last year.”
Charlie, who will soon retire, reflected on his 46-year career in public health, including more than 20 years leading the CDC Foundation. “We live in a world facing many daunting challenges—just hit the news feed on your smart device and you’ll see an example,” he said. “Working across all sectors we can collectively do so much more together than we can alone.”
We at the CDC Foundation are thankful for CDC’s dedicated professionals helping to defeat Ebola and other disease threats. We are also grateful to our partners who provide vital support for so many programs that are protecting the health, safety and security of America and our neighbors around the world.