Dr. Stanley Foster, who oversaw the Smallpox Eradication Program Bangladesh and contained the very last case of Variola Major (the more deadly form of Smallpox) in the world, died of bone marrow disease on March 14, 2021 in Gainesville, Georgia.
The newly emergent country of Bangladesh was, at the time, among the poorest in the world. The eradication of Smallpox in this riverine and densely populated country depended on the rapid detection of every case, household quarantine of infected individuals, and the vaccination of all contacts and neighbors living within half a mile. Dr. Foster oversaw the development of a program that involved searching the 12 million houses in Bangladesh every 4 weeks. Each search involved 12,000 health, malaria, and family planning workers; each searcher visited 1000 houses over a 5-9 day period where the worker showed a picture of smallpox, publicized the monetary reward for reporting a smallpox case, and searched for smallpox cases. Over 1 million person-days were used in the last three months prior to the last case, Rahima Banu, who developed rash on October 16, 1975.
The four year posting in Bangladesh was part of Foster’s life-long career as an international epidemiologist and teacher. In 1962, Dr. Foster joined the Center for Disease Control’s (Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Epidemic Intelligence Service and was assigned to the Indian Health Service in Arizona managing a Trachoma Eye Disease Diagnosis and Treatment Program. Examining 10,000 sets of eyes each year he found that 20% of patients were infected with Trachoma and required treatment.
Through his work with the CDC, he had the opportunity to investigate other health emergencies as they arose: Plague, Rabies, Measles, Shigella, Food Poisoning, Kerato-Conjunctivitis (Philadelphia, PA Tahlequah OK and La Paz, Bolivia), Diabetes in Pima Indians, Rotavirus in the Truck Islands in the South Pacific, Lassa Fever (Nigeria), and Ebola (Zaire).
In 1966, he was invited to join CDCs Smallpox Eradication Measles Control Program. He served as Team Leader of Smallpox Eradication Measles Control Program in Nigeria (1966-1970) before taking on the position as Team Leader of the World Health Organization Smallpox program in Bangladesh (1972-1976). He also worked in Somalia (3 months in 1977), in which a less severe form of Smallpox was endemic.
From 1980 to 1994, he worked with the International Health Program Office at CDC in its Combating Childhood Communicable Disease Project (CCCD). He partnered with 13 African countries to improve the health and survival of children under 5 by strengthening their capacity to prevent and treat diseases. During this period, he began teaching global health policy and global program management at Emory’s emerging School of Public Health.
He joined Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health in 1994. He taught Global Health Challenges and Opportunities in the fall, Community Transformation in the winter; and Evidence-Based Strategies (a case study of Oromia Region in Ethiopia) in the spring. Using examples drawn from field work in 40 countries, priority was given to strengthening the capacity of learners to effectively empower communities in identifying and overcoming barriers to health and wellbeing. Public Health Masters students from around the world remember his commitment to their personal development and the most common phrase used to describe his courses was that they were “life changing”.
Stanley Foster grew up in Melrose Massachusetts, graduated from Williams College, and obtained his Medical Degree from the University of Rochester. He was living in Sautee, Georgia at the time of his death.
Williams College awarded Dr. Foster an Honorary Doctor of Science (1983) and the Bicentennial Medal (2006). Other awards included Alpha Omega Alpha (Rochester 1960); Department of State Meritorious Honor Award (1970); World Health Organization Order of the Bifurcated Needle (OBN) (1976); HHS Distinguished Service Award (1989); CDC Watson Medical of Excellence (1991); Professor of Year Award (1996): RSPH Sellars Award for exemplifying the ideals of public health and serving as a role models and mentor to his colleagues (2002); APHA Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in International Health (2003); Dory Storms Child Survival Recognition Award (2008); Emory Williams Award for Distinguished Teaching (2010); and RSPH Alumni Award (2012).
Dr. Foster is survived by his loving wife of 65 years, Dorothy Peck Foster of Sautee-Nacoochee, lineal sons Dr. William Foster of Tucson, AZ, Dr. Andrew Foster (Rev. Christine Johnson Foster) of Providence, RI and Dr. Paul Foster (Jennifer Lew) of Englewood, NJ, daughter Rebecca Foster (Joseph Lusi) of Providence, RI, fostered sons Jose Mills (Janet) of Ghana, West Africa and Kojo Abawase of Clarkesville, sister Joann Foster Maslin (Charles) of Williamsburg, VA, his 9 grandchildren and a rich collective web of extended family, mentees and colleagues.
A memorial service will take place at 2:00 PM on Saturday, May 29th At Nacoochee Presbyterian Church.
For those who would like to give a gift in honor of Stanley Foster's life, the family has chosen the following two options: Make a contribution to the Nacoochee Presbyterian Church Guatemala fund, which supports the church’s missions to Guatemala including the CEDEPCA (Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America) and the Association of Mam Christian Women for Development . To do so visit https://nacoocheepresbyterian.org/give/ then click on “Donate Now” and choose an amount. There is no need to set up an account. In the follow-up page note that your contribution is to the “Guatemala fund in honor of Stanley Foster". Or a contribution may be made to the Stan and Dottie Foster Fund at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. This fund supports learners who are engaged in global field experiences. To do so visit https://securelb.imodules.com/s/1705/giving/index.aspx?sid=1705&gid=3&pgid=600&cid=1358&bledit=1&dids=11614&appealcode=1USFM .
An online guestbook is available for the Foster family at https://afosterri.org/sofoster/.
Arrangements by Hillside Memorial Chapel & Gardens, Clarkesville. 706-754-6256