“There have been few heroes in my life and Dr. Donald R. Hopkins is one.”
With these words, U.S. President Jimmy Carter paid tribute to HSPH alumnus Donald Hopkins, MPH ’70, a legendary leader in the field of disease eradication whose accomplishments include a leading role in the elimination of smallpox.
One of 10 children, the son of a carpenter and a seamstress, Hopkins likes to describe himself as the “product of many kindnesses,” referring to the financial support he received for his education. He has served as both Deputy Director and Acting Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He has headed up health programs at the Atlanta-based Carter Center since 1987. His 1983 book Princes and Peasants: Smallpox in History was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and his many awards include a MacArthur “genius” grant.
Hopkins’ sights are currently trained on guinea worm disease, a parasitic disease so intensely painful that it has been dubbed “the fiery serpent.” In 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases. Today, thanks in large part to the eradication campaign Hopkins leads at the Carter Center, there are fewer than 600 cases worldwide and the goal of complete eradication is within reach. “I’m increasingly confident that it’s less and less likely that the disease will outlive me,” the 71-year-old Hopkins recently told the New York Times.