Gorgas Memorial Institute Research Award
(1993-2014) This award is no longer available.
This award is designed to enhance and facilitate the development of scientific linkages between Panama, nationas of Central America and the Caribbean Islands, and the United States and Canada through support of short-term travel for young research investigators from these regions.
William Crawford Gorgas was born on October 3, 1854, in Mobile, Alabama, the son of the Confederate Chief of Ordinance during the Civil War. Interestingly, at the birth his mother was attended by Dr. Josiah Nott, an early proponent of the theory that mosquitoes transmitted yellow fever who was ridiculed for his beliefs, and later as a young physician, Gorgas devoted much attention to Nott’s work. After graduation from Bellvue Medical College, he entered the US Army and contracted yellow fever while stationed at Fort Brown, near Brownsville, Texas. In part because he was now immune to yellow fever, in 1898 he was appointed sanitary officer for the City of Havana. There, he and Walter Reed became warm personal friends, and when the epochal studies of the Yellow Fever Commission proved that Stegomyia mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) were the vector, Gorgas was quick to apply the newfound knowledge.
On May 22, 1901, Gorgas wrote to Reed, then back in Washington, D.C.:
“The fever situation is all that could be desired, I think. The last death from yellow fever occurred on March 13th. Since that time we have had a case on April 21st, another on April 22nd. We had no more cases then ill May 6th, when we had one; and on May 7 three more. Since that time, two weeks, we have had no more; and, as the conditions, as far as non-immunes are concerned, seem more favorable for the spread of yellow fever, I am in high fettle.”
Gorgas began to achieve a measure of celebrity for his success. By special act of the US Congress he was promoted from Major to Colonel. In late 1902, when it became clear that the US would build a canal in the newly independent Republic of Panama, he was ordered back to Washington to begin to prepare for work there. In June 1904 Gorgas sailed for Panama accompanied by Joseph L. Le Prince, set to solving the technical, logistic, and bureaucratic problems surrounding vector control in the Canal Zone. On December 8, 1905, 8:15 PM, at a public meeting of the young ASTM held in the Clinical Amphitheater of the Medico-Chirurgical College in Philadelphia, Gorgas delivered an address entitled “Mosquito Work in Relation to Yellow Fever on the Isthmus of Panama.” The address was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Gorgas’ stunning success in preventive medicine in the Canal Zone is an oft-told tale and will not be recounted here. However, the difficulty of the task is sometimes not fully appreciated. He voiced his frustrations in his 1910 ASTMH Presidential Address entitled “The Cost of Sanitation on the Isthmus of Panama”:
“Besides performing such functions as the Health Department of New York performs, the Sanitary Department of the Isthmus [headed by Gorgas] cares for all the sick, both in hospitals and dispensaries, administers the national quarantine, does the street cleaning and garbage collecting, reclaims waste lands, pays the salaries of some fifteen ministers of the gospel, cares for all the cemeteries, does a general undertaking and embalming business for some eighty thousand people, and besides all this, pays directly to the Engineering Department about two hundred thousand dollars per year… Considering our average population for the past five years as one hundred thousand, we have an appropriation for sanitation during the same period averaging $3.88 per capita per year.”
In 1914 only a few months before the outbreak of World War I, Gorgas was appointed Surgeon General of the US Army, in which capacity he led the US medical mobilization. He retired in 1919, and died on July 2, 1920, at the age of 65.
Ilana Balassiano, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz)
Maria Gomez Gonzalez, CIDEIM
Janet Lindow, Yale University
Sandra López-Vergès, Gorgas Memorial Institute of Health Studies
Herbert de Matos Guedes
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Veronica Valverde Garduno
Cybele Carina Garcia
Concepcion Zuniga Valeriano
Raul Canate de Gracia
Margarita M. Correa-Ochoa
Pedro L. Oliveira
Bianca I. Restrepo
Pamela Pennington de Sanchez
Ana Maria Revoredo de Silva Ventura
Delfina Rosario Dominguez
Adeline S. T. Chan
Beth D. Kirkpatrick
Jorge M. Quinonez
Nicandor Obaldia, III
Rafael Fernandez-Botran, PhD
Richard Oberhelman, MD
John Hawdon, PhD
Delfina Rosario Dominguez