CDC director to leave post March 31

Feb 25, 2002 (CIDRAP News) – Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) since 1998, has announced he will leave the position March 31.

In a statement issued Feb 21, Koplan, who directed the CDC's response to the anthrax attacks last fall, did not list a reason for his decision or say what he plans to do next. "I have been fortunate to serve as CDC director during the last three and one-half years when CDC has made great progress in addressing a number of significant health challenges," Koplan stated.

Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of health and human services, called Thompson "a great American" who helped improve the nation's health. "He also dedicated himself to improving health conditions throughout the world, which included playing a lead role in eradicating smallpox and being an early leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS," Thompson said in a press release. He also called Koplan "an aggressive and passionate leader in the prevention of chronic disease."

Koplan cited several CDC accomplishments as significant during his tenure:

  • Responding "swiftly and effectively" to the anthrax attacks
  • Building state, local, and CDC capacity to respond to bioterrorism and other public health threats
  • "Addressing the nation's obesity epidemic with solid scientific data"
  • Focusing on preventing serious chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease
  • Achieving the highest national immunization coverage levels on record and making progress toward the global eradication of polio
  • Implementing a master plan for state-of-the-art CDC facilities

The CDC received considerable criticism for its response to the mailborne anthrax attacks. CDC experts initially did not suspect that anthrax spores could leak out of a sealed envelope during processing, so the agency was taken by surprise when some postal workers in Washington, DC, contracted anthrax after an anthrax-laced letter was delivered to Sen. Tom Dashchle's office. In addition, some state and local officials complained that the CDC was slow to communicate with them about health risks associated with the anthrax attacks.

The New York Times, quoting unnamed sources, reported last week that the Bush administration felt that Koplan had focused too little effort on the threat of bioterrorism. However, Koplan told major newspapers that he was not pressured to quit.

Koplan became CDC director in October 1998. Trained in internal medicine and preventive medicine, he first joined the agency as a member of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), according to a biographical sketch on the CDC Web site. In the mid 1970s he served on the CDC team that helped eradicate smallpox, working as an EIS officer in Bangladesh, one of the disease's last strongholds.

In 1984, Koplan led a US team that assessed the health results of the disastrous chemical-plant leak in Bhopal, India. He also was a leader in the CDC's effort to understand and prevent AIDS, chairing a Public Health Service executive committee on the disease in 1983 and 1984. In 1989 he served as assistant surgeon general and became the first director of the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. There, he established a national early detection program for breast and cervical cancer.

From 1994 to 1998, Koplan worked in the private sector as director and president of the Prudential Center for Health Care Research. He currently holds academic appointments at Emory University, Morehouse Medical School, and Harvard Medical School.

See also:

Koplan's resignation announcement

HHS Secretary Thompson's statement regarding Koplan's resignation

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