On any given day, when Walter Dowdle, PhD, would walk to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), he would have a bag in-hand picking up litter along his route; hardly what you would expect of a deputy director of the CDC,
expert in the United States’ fight against the AIDS epidemic, and a leading scientist. But that is just the kind of man he is.
As a virologist and a pure bench scientist, Dowdle is known to many for his scientific integrity and the numerous contributions he has made to public health during his 60+ year career as a passionate public health expert.
The Task Force for Global Health has been fortunate to have Dowdle as an employee, advisor and mentor for nearly 25 of those years, and as he officially retires from his work at The Task Force this year, his guidance will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on in the values he instilled in our work.
“He is one of those people that is very centered, very calm, and he never lets his ego get in the way of getting the job done,” said Kimberly Koporc, who worked closely with Dowdle at The Task Force. “He’s always been an amazing mentor to me, and I think he’s been an amazing mentor to many people,” she added.
Helping Build The Task Force We Know Today
Dowdle’s career has spanned across an impressive number of viral diseases. After retiring from the CDC in the mid-90s, he joined The Task Force, known as The Task Force for Child Survival and Development at the time, to work on polio eradication efforts. He helped start our Polio Eradication Center, including the Polio Antivirals Initiative which currently works to develop poliovirus antiviral agents.
He was also instrumental in developing the Global Polio Laboratory Network utilized by the World Health Organization to provide laboratory guidelines on containing poliovirus. In an initial pilot project, Dowdle developed and tested a plan to implement the laboratory containment program in the United States so that it could be replicated globally.
But Dowdle’s passion to fight diseases went beyond his work in polio. Soon after joining The Task Force, he played a key role in convening the Conference on Global Disease Elimination and Eradication as Public Health Strategies co-hosted in Atlanta in 1998 by The Task Force and numerous international and national agencies. This conference was a turning point for disease elimination and eradication efforts and set the agenda for much of what global and public health experts continue to work on today.
Dowdle also started and ran the Malarone® Donation Program and Children Without Worms, initially called the Mebendazole Donation Initiative, at The Task Force in an effort to treat resistant malaria and intestinal worms, respectively; the latter program continues to operate and improve the health of women and children in low-income countries today.
Tragically, during the operation of the Malarone® Donation Program, The Task Force and Dowdle lost a dear colleague, Mary Louise Martin, DVM, MS, Associate Director of the Malarone® Donation Program, in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya. In honor of his colleague, Dowdle set up the Mary Louise Martin, DVM, MS, Endowed Memorial Scholarship which provides scholarships for disadvantaged young women in Kenya to attend the Starehe Girls Centre, a national boarding school.
“In everything he did, he was a pillar of integrity and commitment,” said Alan Hinman, MD, MPH, Consulting Advisor to The Task Force’s vaccine-preventable disease programs and close colleague to Dowdle.
His commitment helped create The Task Force as it is today, serving millions of people in its work to eliminate diseases and protect the health of populations, and his contributions will forever be valued by The Task Force and beyond. We are incredibly thankful that he gave his time and expertise to our work and those we serve.