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Rollins family gives $4.2 million to establish new Office of Public Health Preparedness at Emory

January 30, 2002

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 alma mater.

Emory University Health Sciences Center

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