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Epidemiologist Named CDC Director

An industry epidemiologist with 22 years in the federal government--Jeffrey Koplan--has been chosen to head the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. Donna Shalala, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, announced the choice today at CDC's headquarters in Atlanta. The event was "something of a homecoming celebration," says attendee James Curran, public health school dean at Emory University, because Koplan has spent most of his career at CDC.

The CDC directorship has been vacant since February when the previous chief, David Satcher, left to become the U.S. Surgeon General under Shalala. Koplan will take charge of both CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry on 5 October, and is declining comment until then. No Senate confirmation is required.

Koplan, 53, is currently president of Prudential Insurance Company's center for health care research in Atlanta, which studies the costs and outcomes of health services. Before taking this private sector job, he spent 2 decades rising through the ranks at CDC--from field researcher in the Epidemic Intelligence Service to assistant surgeon general, becoming in 1989 the first director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. According to health researchers, Koplan played a key role in devising an AIDS monitoring network from 1982 to 1984 and led an initiative to prevent breast and cervical cancer in the 1980s.

"He's a terrific choice," says Curran, who admires Koplan's professionalism and "scientific depth." Mohammad Akhter, director of the American Public Health Association in Washington, D.C., also says he's "delighted" with the selection, calling Koplan a practical leader who knows how to advance ideas through the bureaucracy.

Others are more cautious. Public health leader D. A. Henderson of Johns Hopkins University notes that, although Koplan has a great record and is "very capable," he will also need great leadership skills to reinvigorate CDC. Henderson believes CDC has become "parochial" and needs nudging to "open up" to outside ideas. AIDS researcher Barry Bloom, recently named dean of Harvard University's School of Public Health, also notes that CDC has been slighted in recent federal budgets and needs a strong political champion. Koplan's ability in this area is untested, Bloom says.