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February 11, 2002

Rollins family gives $4.2M for new office

By Ron Sauder

A former assistant surgeon general of the United States has been named to head a new Emory program that will address critical needs in the nation’s public health system revealed by the terrorist attacks of last fall.

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 Sept. 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 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.”

Berkelman said one of the chief concerns of the new office would be studying and strengthening the public health surveillance systems 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.

“We are very grateful to the Rollins Foundation for their strong support of the school at Emory that bears their name,” said public health Dean James Curran. “This magnificent, timely gift addresses some of the most pressing needs in our society.”