Gorgas Memorial Institute of Tropical and Preventive Medicine

Alternative names
Dates:
Active 1899
Active 1992

History notes:

Historical Sketch: The Gorgas Memorial Institute of Tropical and Preventive Medicine, Incorporated (GMITP) was founded in 1921 and was named after William C. Gorgas. Gorgas was a U.S. Surgeon General and was known throughout the world as the conqueror of the mosquito and the malaria and yellow fever it transmits. His pioneer efforts in halting an epidemic of yellow fever enabled the United States to complete the Panama Canal. Its mission was to create a health education program to train researchers in tropical health, disease, and medicine and to establish a research institute focusing on tropical and Preventive medicine in Panama. The Its primary organ, the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory, opened its doors in Panama in January, 1929. The major program objectives at GML were concerned with ecological studies, encephalitides, epidemic malaria, host-parasite relationships, and prevention and control of host-parasite relationships in Latin America and other tropical regions. However, by the 1980s Congressional support for GMI/GML was waning. By 1989, GMI/GML found itself in dire need of funding to continue its operations or it must close the Panama facility. Furthermore, Panama was in political upheaval and military personnel advised GMITP President Leon Jacobs to reassess not only the funding issue, but also the unstable environment. The lab closed in 1990.

From the description of Gorgas Memorial Institute of Tropical and Preventive Medicine records, 1899-1992. (National Library of Medicine). WorldCat record id: 14319119

The Gorgas Memorial Institute of Tropical and Preventive Medicine, Incorporated (GMITP) was founded in 1921 and was named after William C. Gorgas. Gorgas was a U.S. Surgeon General and was known throughout the world as the conqueror of the mosquito and the malaria and yellow fever it transmits. His pioneer efforts in halting an epidemic of yellow fever enabled the United States to complete the Panama Canal. Its mission was to create a health education program to train researchers in tropical health, disease, and medicine and to establish a research institute focusing on tropical and preventative medicine in Panama. The original incorporators were: Belisario Porras, President of the Republic of Panama; the Honorable José E. Lefevre, Chargé d'Affaires of Panama in the United States; Merritt W. Ireland, Surgeon General, United States Army; Edward R. Stitt, Surgeon General, United States Navy; Hugh S. Cumming, Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service; Leo S. Rowe, Director General of the Pan American Union; Franklin H. Martin, Director General, American College of Surgeons, William C. Braisted, Rear Admiral, United States Navy; and John Bassett Moore, Permanent International Court of Justice. The first meeting of the incorporators was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 26, 1921.

The country of Panama became involved with GMITP because of the high regard that President Belisario Porras had for Gorgas. Porras was a devoted friend and supporter of Gorgas and his work in the field of tropical diseases. It was during his second term as president of the Republic of Panama that he decided to sponsor two memorials to "two great citizens of the United States." William C. Gorgas was one of those honored.

The initial campaign to raise funds for GMITP began in 1921 under contract with the Ward Systems Company, but due to certain indiscretions the contract was terminated by GMITP and R. H. Ward of the Ward Systems Company. Other efforts by GMITP were used to create funds needed for the memorial to become self-sustaining, such as radio talk shows, essay contests, pledge drives for membership to GMITP and donations by wealthy contributors. Dr. Franklin H. Martin, President of the American Medical Association, presented a plan that would include these influential medical practitioners in GMITP's organization and Board of Directors. GMITP's national headquarters were moved from Washington, DC to Chicago to help influence the AMA. In 1923, Martin was made Chairman of the Executive Committee and was authorized to manage all finances and solicitation of funds for GMITP. With much determination and focus, Martin set about clearing GMITP's financial ailments and formed a State Governing Committee to solicit funds and help support other programs.

At the same time, Panama was raising funds and GMITP also received an annual appropriation from Congress as permanent operating funds for the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory (GML) in Panama. Congressman Maurice H. Thatcher sponsored the initial bill for establishment of GML. Thatcher had been Governor of the Panama Canal Zone and served as a colleague of Gorgas during that construction era. Congress held hearings on the bill (H.R. 8128) which was passed and signed as Public Law No. 350 in 1923. At this time the Executive Committee decided to re-establish their headquarters in Washington, DC. The purchase of the land and buildings for GML was possible only through the combined efforts and political associations of the Republic of Panama and the United States. The property was in a section of Panama known as the El Hatillo Estate and was originally purchased by the Panamanian government for another purpose.

The laboratory opened its doors in January, 1929. The major program objectives at GML were concerned with ecological studies, encephalitides, epidemic malaria, host-parasite relationships, and prevention and control of host-parasite relationships in Latin America and other tropical regions. Beginning in 1978, the lands known as Abogado and Aojeta Islands, located in Gatun Lake Area, were also used by GML and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for use in studying owl monkeys. Field stations were also established at Majé and Juan Mina.

The first Director for the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory was Herbert C. Clark, a former employee of United Fruit Company, where he had been Director of Laboratories and Preventive Medicine. He served as Director from 1929 until his retirement in 1954. When he arrived in the Republic of Panama, he had the arduous task of selecting a clerk/translator, a custodial clerk for maintaining GML buildings and helping in the office, supervising the cleaning of the land around the Laboratory, securing telephone service, plumbing and electricity and other duties were met with focus and clarity, as part of his new responsibility, while keeping GMITP posted on all activity. Clark's main contact within the Panamanian government was with the Secretary of Agriculture and Public Works.

After a long and distinguished career in U.S. Public Health Service, Dr. Martin D. Young assumed the Directorship of GML in 1964, resigning in 1974. Under his leadership a number of new grants and contract programs were developed, helping to establish GMI/GML as a prominent medical/research facility. These included training of university doctoral candidates, arranging appointments for GML scientists to university/organizational establishments, and building professional associations with the Department of Defense, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, Michigan State University and Louisiana State University. He initiated new programs for the study of human malaria, mass drug administration of antimalarials, biomedical studies on proposed sea-level canal routes in Panama and Colombia, Chagas' disease, sewage disposal by the use of stabilization of ponds in the tropics, and a tropical medicine course for Navy physicians. He also conceived of the idea for GML to establish a colony for the breeding of primates with financing from sources outside of Congress and the GMITP. He was also instrumental in negotiating for land in Panama to construct a Regional Medical Library and an additional laboratory building for the GML. He received the Gorgas Medal from the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States in 1974 for his lifelong dedication in preventive and tropical medicine and also the highest award of the Republic of Panama, the Medal of Manuel Amador Guerrero in the Order of "Gran Oficial".

Fogarty International Center (FIC) endorsed the National Institutes of Health Management Audit proposal to redefine the leadership of the Gorgas Memorial Institute in terms of a full-time and compensated Executive Director.

In 1970, control over GMITP was transferred from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease to the Fogarty International Center (FIC). It maintained a general surveillance over all foreign activities in the health sciences under NIH's jurisdiction. Established in 1968, the FIC was named after Rhode Island Congressman John E. Fogarty on behalf of his efforts with health legislation and his desire for a U.S. center dedicated to health, medical and biological research. Although FIC was a small institution at that time with modest financial resources, it played a significant role as sole agency of the Federal Government charged with the responsibility for international objectives in biomedical research and advanced education. At that time, FIC's role in postdoctoral training, conference support and its commitment to the Advisory Scientific Board of GMI presented it as the most appropriate institute of NIH to become a vehicle for GMI/GML programs to be nourished and coordinated.

By 1973, a roadmap for an international health agency was proposed and written by FIC's Fred McCrumb, putting forth the role of societies and nations to resolve the problems of disease, ill-health, and to promote economical and social situations to improve such problems. Reports on the matter emphasized the importance of GMI/GML to continue as a tropical biomedical research laboratory and training center for highly specialized medical investigators in the area of immunology, inset vector genetics, virology, epidemiology, parasitology and general entomology. However, by the 1980s Congressional support for GMI/GML was waning. By 1989, GMI/GML found itself in dire need of funding to continue its operations or it must close the Panama facility.

Letters of support to continue GMI/GML in Panama poured in from the international community of scientists, researchers and government officials. All disagreed with the decision by the U.S. to disband this major research facility, which after sixty years of cooperation with the biomedical and health science community was approaching its ignominious demise. Furthermore, Panama was in political upheaval and military personnel advised GMITP President Leon Jacobs to reassess not only the funding issue, but also the unstable environment. On May 23, 1990, GMITP's Executive Committee voted unanimously to close the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory that year. A formal announcement was made to the Panamanian Ministry of Labor returning the building and site. On December 14, 1990, the doors were closed to one of the most significant research centers in the world

From the guide to the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Tropical and Preventive Medicine Records, 1899-1992, (History of Medicine Division. National Library of Medicine)

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Ark ID:
w6159d98
SNAC ID:
19693768

Subjects:

  • Tropical medicine
  • Academies and Institutes
  • Malaria
  • Yellow fever
  • Preventive medicine

Occupations:

not available for this record

Functions:

not available for this record

Places:

  • Panama Canal Zone (as recorded)
  • Panama (as recorded)
  • Panama (as recorded)
  • Panama Canal Zone (as recorded)