Stan Foster

1930 – March 27, 2022

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 a hospice room in Gainesville, GA.

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 three-year posting in Bangladesh was part of Foster’s life-long career as an international epidemiologist and teacher. In 1962, Dr. Foster joined Center for Disease Control’s (Now the Center 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, Talequah Oklahoma, 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 on 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 through 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 Public Health Faculty 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.

photoWilliams 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 Meritorius 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, lineal sons Dr. William Foster, Dr. Andrew Foster and Dr. Paul Foster, fostered sons Jose Mills and Kojo Abawase, daughter Rebecca Foster, his 9 grandchildren and a rich collective web of extended family, mentees and colleagues.Click here to see a video tribute from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory College

The following is a note from Abram Foster, son of Paul Foster and Stan’s grandson:

It is with a heavy heart that I share the passing of my grandfather, Stanley “Grandpa Hippo” Foster, of blessed memory, who lived by all metrics a life worth living, one of honor, humor, optimism, and a steadfast sense of duty to others and to humanity.

Grandpa was a celebrated epidemiologist who worked with the CDC and WHO to investigate and mitigate outbreaks of trachoma, rabies, measles, shigella, keratoconjunctivitis, rotavirus, ebola, lassa fever, malaria, and more, all over the world. He was best known for his work of over ten years on the WHO’s smallpox eradication team, most notably as team leader for programs in Nigeria, Somalia, and Bangladesh, where he and his colleagues successfully diagnosed the world’s last case of malignant smallpox. After more than four decades in public health, he transitioned to teaching, particularly with the Emory Rollins School of Public Health, and continued to give lectures and advise his students (or “learners,” as he preferred to call them) until the end of his life.

Grandpa was a stoic, sharp, humble, wonderful character and a half. He spoke succinctly and profoundly, could jump from serious to jovial in a second, and while always deeply caring and appreciative of others, never stayed silent if he observed selfishness and laziness. He was internally one of the strongest human beings I have ever had the privilege to know, always bringing a smile and a laugh even under the greatest pressure. After experiencing first-hand the suffering and extreme poverty of others around the world, his life motto might well have been “grin and bear it–” even as his health declined at the end of his life, through sheer force of will (and far more than anyone could have expected), he was largely able to physically keep up with the rest of the family, even walking a 5k and swimming a quarter mile while going through chemotherapy treatments for his first bout with cancer. Also, during this period, one of the final times he and I spent a long time alone together, he was caring for ME; we were visiting my grandma’s birthplace in the mountains of Guatemala, and I fell ill with some kind of traveler plague– and my grandpa was, despite his own condition, immediately ready to jump back into doctor mode, with all the right medicine and all the right advice, and many hours of conversation on topics ranging from music to medicine to philosophy to literature. Grandpa was deeply devoted to his family, making sure to teach all of us the value of family and serving as a lynchpin in a deeply connected extended family, beloved and revered by all.

Grandpa was an incredible survivor and gleefully relished in the stories of many moments in his career he might have died. He survived good times and bad, and he took personal responsibility for helping several family members through very hard times in their lives. Sadly, after beating all the odds, overcoming a first bout with cancer and pushing a second bout to the bitter end of his prognosis, he was hospitalized a few days ago and peacefully died this morning. Thankfully, my dad and aunt were able to be there with him and my grandma at the end.

In lieu of flowers, wear a mask.