HOMAGE OF A SARDINIAN TO A SARDINIAN
G. Brotzu Department of Hygiene and Public Health
University of Cagliari, Italy
Providing a clear, complete summary of Professor Brotzu's academic life is by no means an easy task, in that his activities as a teacher, researcher and political figure are closely interwined over his 32 year career.
Four basic principles have permeated his work in the above mentioned fields:
1. if diseases are caused by microbes;
2. if microbes thrive on the poor socio-economic conditions of the population;
3. by eliminating the conditions which sustain and bring, about the spread of microbes;
4. proper public hygiene can be achieved.
To this particular frame of mind as a hygienist Brotzu added other human qualities including a deep sense of ethics rooted in a religious faith which pervaded his everyday life, though never ostentatiously, and from which stemmed his profound concern not only for the cultural and social needs of his homeland, but also for those of the many people who turned to him for help.
Thus it was that Brotzu, in his very first inauguration of the academic year as Rector of the University of Cagliari (1936-45), set out his guidelines for university policy, stressing the fact that "The university must respond to local needs and strive to meet the most heartfelt demands of the Sardinian people ... lf there is no specific sensitivity towards the problems of the region, we cannot expect to earn the people's respect."
The holistic mentality of the hygienist, accustomed, moreover, to the constant verification process of scientific research, was also manifest in the university building program launched in the late 'thirties, but never completed owing to the events of the war. Thanks to these initiatives, however, the Department of Clinical Medicine, the Science Building,, the Paediatric Clinic, the Polio Centre, and the Institute of Pathological Anatomy came into being and today constitute the hub of the Faculty of Medicine in Cagliari, alongside the Institutes of Mineralogy and Geology.
Brotzu's research work ranged from epidemiological aspects of the commonest diseases in Sardinia (malaria, typhoid fever, brucellosis, tuberculosis, trachoma, echinococcosis, etc.) to research into antiviral and chemo-antibiotic agents, research on the social (schools, housing,) and working (mines) environment, and prophylactics against malaria, typhoid fever, tuberculosis and polio.
One cannot, however, talk about Brotzu's scientific research without mentioning, however briefly, his most prestigious discovery, namely that of cephalosporins, which remains and exemplary lesson for all researchers. The discovery was far from being a simple case of serendipity, but rather was the fruit of observation and testing.
In the dark, sombre years of the second world war, Brotzu, with the help only of A. Spanedda, in a Cagliari half deserted and devastated by the bombing, devoted his efforts to establishing, why, despite the habit many young people had of going swimming, at Su Siccu, where the local sewage system drained into the sea, there were no outbreaks or cases of typhoid fever related to bathing.
In his twenty years of political activity, Brotzu never forgot that he was first and foremost a hygienist, as so clearly demonstrated by the report he presented, as Senior Councillor for Public Health, to the International Study Congress on the problems of backward areas (Milan, 1O- 1 5 October 1954). At the end of a lengthy resume, of the hygienic and environmental conditions of Sardinia, he concluded "We have sought to summarize not all the problems, but, on the one hand, those we believe to be decisive for the social depression of the island and, on the other, the actual effects of this depression".
Among all these problems "one, particularly, has been of fundamental importance in the history of Sardinia: malaria. Anyone who is not Sardinian and not fully versed in the history of the Sardinian peep is in no position to understand our feelings and attitudes towards the problem of malaria which has oppressed, debilitated and weighed so heavily upon the people of Sardinia for more than 2,000 years and which has left them with a stigma which perhaps only after several generations may one day be finally erased".
Thus it was that Brotzu threw all his scientific and political weight behind the struggle to combat social diseases, with the setting up of the CAR Centre to consolidate the struggle that ERLASS was waging against malaria, with the building of district hospitals, general outpatient clinics and slaughterhouses, and with all the effort and support he put into promoting the construction of aqueducts for the supply of uncontaminated drinking water.
What impact these measures have had on present day socio-economic and social conditions is there for all to see: in 1932 the coasts of Sardinia, including the one where this congress is being held, were "expanses of deserted marshland, the insalubrious domain of malaria"; today, they are the home of flourishing tourist resorts and residential and industrial estates.