July 19, 2004

Retired Rollins professor pledges two chairs


By Eric Rangus

Emeritus Professor Eugene Gangarosa has pledged two chairs in the Rollins School of Public Health.

 The Eugene J. Gangarosa Chair for Safe Water will be located in the Department of International Health's Center for Global Safe Water. The Rose Salamone Gangarosa Chair--named for Gangarosa's wife, a retired teacher--will focus on sanitation in the developing world and be located in the Department of Environmental Health.

"These two endowments will be drops of water in a ocean of need," said Gangarosa, who retired from the public health faculty in 1991. "Water and sanitation go hand in hand. To ensure safe water you have to have good sanitation."

Gangarosa was director of the School of Medicine's master's of public health program for six years before the establishment of the Rollins school. After leaving the school, Gangarosa spent two years as director of the Office of International Affairs.

"Our overarching goal is to make the best use of our assets to promote safe water and sanitation in the developing world," said Gangarosa, who has devoted the bulk of this more-than-50-year career to improving living conditions in the world's poorest countries.

"We believe we are investing in the future of our global community," he said. "We see these investments as ways to promote better health and quality of life and address the root causes that contribute to unsettled conditions in our global community."

Gangarosa said the chair may not be filled for a couple of years, but that doesn't mean it will be dormant. As the endowment grows toward full funding for the position, efforts in the Center for Global Safe Water will be expanding in parallel. The center already has a good head start.

It was established less than a year ago and boasts partners such as the CDC, the CARE USA and Population Services International and Emory's schools of public health, medicine and nursing. Some of the center's programming involves organizations with a global reach such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization.

An estimated 2 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe water, and the WHO estimates that more than 1 million die each year because of water-transmitted diseases.

The Gangarosas have seen the public health struggles of the developing world first hand. Eugene has held academic health faculty positions in Pakistan and Lebanon, and he has worked extensively in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Central and South America.

Gangarosa first saw the importance of safe water in World War II, as part of a U.S. Air Force unit that garrisoned Naples, Italy, after the German army retreated. Prior to leaving the city, the Germans destroyed its water system, leaving 1.5 million people without running water.

"I really admired what they were doing under such difficult circumstances," Gangarosa said of Naples' citizens, who had to deal with a typhus outbreak among other life-threatening problems. "My interest in international medicine and public health were sparked by that experience. I left Italy in late 1945 determined to pursue a career in health and medicine."

Nearly 60 years later, Gangarosa has scaled back his globetrotting ways, but through the chairs he and his wife have endowed, he hopes to continue contributing to the betterment of the world's health.

"We know we will never see the smiles of those we benefit," he said. "But we will have the satisfaction of knowing we are making a difference."