BOSTON – A $350 million gift pledged to Harvard University's School of Public Health is the largest single donation in the university's long history, officials said, and will help bolster research in several key areas including global pandemics.
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The donation, to be formally announced Monday, comes from a philanthropic foundation established by the family of T.H. Chan, a Hong Kong real estate developer who died in 1986.
In a rarity for Harvard, the school will be renamed the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The only other school within the university to bear an individual's name is the Harvard Kennedy School, named for John F. Kennedy.
"I think he would have been very pleased ... that the school would be part of his legacy," said Dr. Gerald Chan, describing his father as a staunch supporter of education who often helped family friends pay for schooling or study abroad.
"It was very much in keeping with how he lived his life and what he held to be important," said Chan, who earned his own master's degree from the public health school in 1979.
Julio Frenk, the school's dean, called the $350 million endowment from The Morningside Foundation a "transformational gift," one that will help students and faculty working to stop pandemics such as Ebola and malaria, cancer and obesity, and address global health threats stemming from war, poverty, environmental hazards, and failing health care systems.
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"We can apply it to the priorities of the moment and those priorities that are likely to evolve because public health is a very dynamic field," said Frenk.
A researcher was already involved in trying to trace the origin of the current Ebola outbreak in western Africa, he said, while another was examining how mobile technology can be used to track Ebola patients.
Proceeds from the gift also will be used to expand student financial aid and provide loan forgiveness to graduates who decide to work in underserved U.S. communities or poor countries. The oldest continuously operating school of public health in the world, it celebrated its centennial anniversary last year.
The largest previous single gift to Harvard University was $150 million for financial aid given in February by Kenneth Griffin, founder of the Citadel hedge fund management company.
Billionaire philanthropist Hansjorg Wyss has made a pair of $125 million gifts in recent years to a bioengineering institute.