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NEWS OF THE WEEK
PUBLIC HEALTH
March 4, 2002
Volume 80, Number 9
CENEAR 80 9 p. 12
ISSN 0009-2347
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ROOM AT THE TOP
With CDC director leaving, four top federal health slots are vacant

LOIS EMBER

Jeffrey P. Koplan has announced his resignation as director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, effective March 31. He has spent 26 years in public service and nearly four years at the helm of CDC. His departure leaves vacant four top health positions at a time when the Bush Administration is focusing on responding to bioterrorism.

Under Koplan, CDC has branched out from an agency mainly concerned with infectious diseases to one stressing the prevention of chronic health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. In the 1970s, he worked to eradicate smallpox in Bangladesh, and in 1984 he assessed the health effects of the methyl isocyanate accident at Union Carbide's Bhopal, India, facility.

Koplan and CDC have drawn criticism for their response to last October's anthrax outbreaks and for seemingly not placing enough emphasis on bioterrorism. But Koplan counters that CDC responded "swiftly and effectively to the nation's first bioterrorism event." And, he says, bioterrorism has been one of his key priorities, pointing to the establishment of a world-class laboratory able to isolate and identify "anthrax in a variety of specimens."

Koplan, 57, has said he is leaving CDC without revealing his future plans. Because Koplan still has a month to serve, Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who will make the appointment, has not yet named an acting director or a successor.

In addition to the CDC vacancy, the Bush Administration also lacks its surgeon general, FDA commissioner, and NIH director. Margaret A. Hamburg, vice president for biological programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and a former assistant secretary at HHS, says, "It is a concern that there are so many vacant leadership positions in our nation's health-related federal departments and agencies."

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