Some of the earliest endeavors of American philanthropy recognized health as a key component to human well-being. From reforming medical education to training public health workers and nurses, and later mobilizing new technologies toward better approaches in immunization, preventive care, and epidemiological research, foundations’ health programs have made major contributions to human health around the world.
Rockefeller Foundation scientists, led by future Nobel Prize winner Max Theiler, developed and produced a yellow fever vaccine in the 1930s that was later given to thousands of American and British soldiers during World War II. The serum drastically reduced the worldwide occurrence of yellow fever. Today it remains the only vaccine in use for the deadly virus. However, the road to creating the vaccine was long and bumpy.
Hospice, or non-cure-oriented care at the end of life, was a European concept. But the Commonwealth Fund boosted the US hospice movement by supporting its beginnings. The first modern American hospice opened in Branford, Connecticut in 1980, supported by Commonwealth and other foundations.
In 1923, a large donation of funds by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., helped ensure the wide distribution of the newly mass-produced treatment for diabetes, insulin. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s gift, known as the “Insulin Gift,” also provided funds to train patients, nurses, physicians, and families to administer this new wonder treatment.
Hookworm disease, sometimes called the “germ of laziness” for its symptoms, was widespread in the US South at the turn of the last century. Yet the science of treatment was simple. The Rockefeller Sanitary Commission battled the disease and in the process developed a new model for public health work.