Family Gives $4.2 Million to Establish New Office of Public Health
Preparedness at Emory
A former assistant
Surgeon General of the United States has been named to head a new program
at Emory University that will address critical needs in the nation's
public health system revealed by the terrorist attacks of last fall.
Dr. Ruth Berkelman, professor
of epidemiology in the Rollins School of Public Health, will direct
the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Research, which is being
established on the strength of a $4.2 million gift from the O. Wayne
Rollins Foundation of Atlanta.
The formation of the office
was inspired by the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and
Pentagon as well as the series of anthrax-tainted letters mailed to
public figures in Florida, Washington and New York. The objectives of
the office include addressing the threat posed by emerging infectious
diseases that can arise without warning, straining the capacity of public
health surveillance and early-warning systems.
"We want to use this new
office to serve the best interests of the local, state, national, and
international communities," said Dr. Berkelman, who will serve as the
Rollins Professor of Public Health Preparedness. "We need to strengthen
the public health infrastructure and capacity to address naturally occurring
infectious disease outbreaks, as well as those caused by terrorism."
Dr. Berkelman said one of
the chief concerns of the new office would be studying and strengthening
the public health surveillance systems that are responsible for detecting
unusual events, such as the early cases of anthrax that turned out to
be the precursors of a larger problem. In Georgia, the office will coordinate
with public health officers on a county and statewide level. It will
also maintain an active liaison with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, located near the Rollins School of Public Health.
"We are very grateful to
the Rollins Foundation for their strong support of the School at Emory
University that bears their name," said Rollins School of Public Health
Dean James W. Curran. "This magnificent, timely gift addresses some
of the most pressing needs in our society."
The new Office will concentrate
on several major areas:
- Research and policy development:
In coordination with colleagues at the local, state and national levels,
researchers at Emory will study the adequacy of existing public health
surveillance systems to detect the first signs of emerging infectious
disease, which could be naturally occurring or due to terrorist activity.
They will make policy recommendations as to how these systems can
be strengthened and how the public health system can make better use
of the latest technology. Other issues that may be studied include
the appropriateness and effectiveness of planning for public communications,
quarantines, and the stockpiling and distribution of antibiotics and
other drugs in response to public health emergencies.
- Training: The Office
will work with existing programs in the Rollins School of Public Health
to enhance training in disease detection and emerging infectious diseases
at both the Master of Public Health (MPH) and doctoral level. In addition,
the Office will offer training opportunities to local and state public
health workers through the existing Career MPH program as well as
short-term training courses for public health laboratory workers,
health department and hospital personnel, and others.
- Public service: Experts
from the Office will work in an advisory capacity with government
agencies as well as foundations and other private organizations to
address public health needs related to bioterrorism, emerging infectious
diseases, and other public health threats.
- Dr. Berkelman, a native
Atlantan, served with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
from 1980 to 2000, when she retired from the Public Health Service
with the rank of Assistant Surgeon General. She is a member of the
Institute of Medicine Committee on Microbial Threats to Health in
the 21st Century and is a consultant with the Nuclear Threat Initiative
(NTI), established by Ted Turner and headed by former U.S. Senator
Sam Nunn to address the issues of nuclear, biological and chemical
weapons. A 1977 graduate of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Berkelman
is board certified in pediatrics and internal medicine, and serves
as a member of the Board of Trustees for Princeton University, her