2012 Alumni Award of Merit

Donald R. Hopkins, MPH '70

Dr. Donald Hopkins received his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and his MD from the University of Chicago. He served his internship at San Francisco General Hospital and his residency in pediatrics at the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics. He is board certified in pediatrics and in public health and has been a member of seven US delegations to the World Health Assembly.

Dr. Hopkins played an important role in the eradication of smallpox as Medical Epidemiologist and Director of the Sierra Leone Smallpox/Measles Program from 1967 to 1969 before coming to HSPH. In 1978, Dr. Hopkins became the Assistant Director for International Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also serving later as the CDC’s Deputy Director and Acting Director.

In the early 1980s, Guinea worm disease afflicted millions from western India to Senegal. While at the CDC, Dr. Hopkins started the Guinea Worm Disease Eradication Program, an exhausting search for the worm in some of the world’s most inhospitable places. From 1987 to 1997, he led the Guinea worm eradication initiative at The Carter Center. Those efforts were pivotal in the reduction of reported cases from an estimated 3.5 million in 1986, to about 11,000 in 2007, and 1,058 in 2011. Dr. Hopkins’ determination and ultimate success in eradicating Guinea worm are all the more impressive when looking at the obstacles and environments in which the work often was done: dictatorships, war, poor infrastructure, lack of medication to treat those already infected and lack of motivation or support as this disease afflicts the poorest populations who are of little or no interest to political elites and unstable governments.

Since 1997, Dr. Hopkins has served as Vice President, Health, at The Carter Center, overseeing international health and mental health programs in Africa and Latin America. He deserves much of the credit for transitioning river blindness from subject of a “control program” to target of an elimination/eradication effort in Latin America, ending transmission completely in many countries, and overcoming skepticism, leading the “oncho community” to attempt to replicate the same feat in Africa.

In addition to authoring, co-authoring and editing more than 170 articles for scientific journals and textbooks, his book on the history of smallpox, Princes and Peasants: Smallpox in History, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1983, and was re-issued in 2002 with the title The Greatest Killer: Smallpox in History.

Dr. Hopkins has received both governmental and academic awards too numerous to list. A modest, soft-spoken gentleman, he would be quick to emphasize that these are the achievements of many, not least the people living in endemic areas. He has an unfailing standard of ethics, egalitarian though unsentimental humanity, and always finds a perspective that allows him to suggest a positive way forward. He exudes the same friendly, quiet respect, dignity, thoughtfulness and degree of attentive listening to all in his energetic and relentless search for better health in poor countries.