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ene gangarosa may be the internationally sought expert on waterborne diseases in the family, but his wife, Rose, is the one who gives a telling personal account of how the lack of safe water affects women and children. Living in Pakistan, where Gene was working to establish a medical research center in Lahore, she would visit in the villages. These many years later, she remembers the faces of children covered with flies, so reconciled to their torment they wouldn’t wipe them away. She remembers the mothers who walked for miles to get enough water to last for just one day. She remembers the bodies of young children wasting away from diarrhea caused by drinking contaminated water.
     As Gene Gangarosa consulted with international agencies throughout a long career, Rose Gangarosa was there with her own children, helping, supporting, seeing—a witness to the critical role water plays in health. Now in partial retirement, Gene has her support as they take another stand to do something about unsafe water and in so doing improve health in the developing world.
     The Gangarosas have made pledges to establish two chairs at the Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH) that will foster a growing expertise in safe water and sanitation at Emory. They see these chairs as an investment in the future of the global community and a way to enable the university to bring the best minds in public health, nursing, medicine, business, and arts and sciences to work on worldwide water challenges. They want to leverage the work of the new Center for Global Safe Water at RSPH to build on a network of partners such as CDC, CARE, USAID, and others, all addressing water issues. (See related story, Safer Water)
     The Eugene J. Gangarosa Chair in Safe Water and the Rose Salamone Gangarosa Chair in Environmental Health are complementary. “We’re not going to be successful without both water and sanitation pieces,” Gene Gangarosa says. “Both are equally important. Sanitation is the right hand of a two-handed operation.”

It was 1959 when Gene Gangarosa got his first exposure to water-transmitted disease. On staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he was assigned to a US Army research team in Bangkok, where the Ministry of Health had invited a multidisciplinary group of scientists to tackle a newly emerging infectious disease. That disease was cholera, which spread through water contaminated by human and animal fecal waste.
     Gangarosa joined the CDC in the Epidemic Intelligence Service in 1964, soon going on to lead the enteric diseases activities of CDC’s Bacterial Diseases Division. As he discovered more about cholera, Gangarosa’s growing expertise was sought by ministries of health, the World Bank, WHO, and others trying to build the infrastructure to contain the epidemic that was spreading throughout Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and Africa—eventually leaping an ocean to Latin America.
     Joining the American University of Beirut in 1978 as Dean of the faculty of health sciences, which included the school of public health, Gangarosa continued his research in cholera and water-transmitted diseases. A faculty colleague, Professor Aftim Acra, got him interested in the possibility of disinfecting contaminated water with sunlight. When unsettling conditions in Lebanon forced Gangarosa’s return to the United States, he brought the sunlight point-of-use strategy with him. “Sunlight seemed the way to go,” Gangarosa remembers. However, he couldn’t interest funding agencies in supporting research for sunlight disinfection of water. Potential donors argued it went against cultural norms in the developing world where people preferred cool, dark places for water storage, and therefore, the sunlight disinfection strategy seemed unsustainable to foundations supporting other water initiatives.
     In 1982, Gangarosa became a professor in preventive medicine at Emory School of Medicine and director of its community health program—the very program that evolved into the RSPH eight years later. While nurturing the public health effort at Emory, Gangarosa discovered that his former colleagues at CDC had a different point-of-use approach to water decontamination. They were using a diluted solution of chlorine to disinfect water in combination with a storage system that kept hands out of water and prevented re-infection.
     “I lucked out, being on the ground floor to support CDC’s development of the Safe Water System,” says Gangarosa. “Through the years, my involvement enabled our students to link to the CDC pioneers to get firsthand experiences in the field.”

Gangarosa, now professor emeritus of international health, has received the highest awards given by CDC and Emory. He was awarded CDC’s Medal of Excellence for distinguished scientific contributions and Emory’s Thomas Jefferson Award for outstanding contribution to the university. Every commencement, RSPH presents a service award in his honor to the student who has demonstrated a creative approach to solving public health problems and who shows promise for outstanding service in the international arena.
     But giving rather than receiving has been the thrust of Gangarosa’s career. In the early days of the public health program at Emory, he brought former CDC colleagues into the classroom to give students the best lecturers and insights the field has to offer. Knowing the importance of hands-on experience, he gave students access to global field experiences through the establishment of the Eugene J. Gangarosa Scholarship Fund, which supports travel for field research. Even in retirement, he wanted to do more. That’s when he and Rose began discussing how they could contribute to public health even beyond their life times.
     They discussed the possibility of making a major gift to RSPH to support water and sanitation, but before they went further, they consulted with their four children. “They all applauded our plans,” says Rose Gangarosa. “A number of them have gone into related health and education fields. They supported our decision 100 percent.”
     Two of the Gangarosa children are physicians—Ray, 90MPH, consults with Gene on food-borne diseases, and Peggy is a pathologist in Florida. Their third child, Gene Gangarosa Jr., is a teacher of English and history, and their youngest son, Paul, 94MPH, is a computer whiz who is helping CDC develop computer-based surveillance programs.
     “We know that our contributions represent only a few drops of water in an ocean of need,” the Gangarosas wrote in a statement explaining their gift. “So we look to others to help.” They believe that success in bringing safe water to the developing world requires a multidisciplinary approach, not just from traditional public health practitioners but from educators, strategy makers, researchers, prevention specialists, all of the disciplines well represented in the university.
     “Every public health intervention is affected by whether a mother has safe water,” Gangarosa says. “For example, if you bring vaccination programs to children who have access to safe water, you will be vaccinating children who will survive. Many programs presume an access to safe water, but it just isn’t so. We have to start with providing safe water. It is a basic right, a basic need. The global community has to mobilize in a way to make it possible.”
     “I tell my students that when we talk about health for all, it implies that those who have resources and are making decisions must address the problems of those who don’t,” Gangarosa says. He and Rose are applying that lesson to their own stewardship, channeling the resources they have toward improving the health of some of the more than a million people who die each year because of water-transmitted diseases.
     “We know we will never see the smiles of those who benefit,” the Gangarosas conclude in their gift statement, “but we will have the satisfaction of knowing we are making a difference.”


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