Carter Center’s ‘Brilliant Warrior against Disease,’ Dr. Donald R. Hopkins, Receives Honorary Degree from Yale

ATLANTA (Monday, May 24, 2021) — The Carter Center’s Dr. Donald R. Hopkins received an honorary Doctor of Medical Sciences degree Monday from Yale University for his work toward the eradication of smallpox and Guinea worm disease.

Hopkins joined The Carter Center in 1987 as senior consultant for health programs, leading the Center’s efforts to eradicate Guinea worm disease and eliminate river blindness. Under his leadership, the Center became the home of the International Task Force on Disease Eradication (ITFDE) and added programs to eliminate river blindness, lymphatic filariasis and control trachoma and schistosomiasis, all of which are considered neglected tropical diseases. In addition, with the ITFDE, he created the Hispaniola Initiative, a binational campaign to eliminate lymphatic filariasis and malaria from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

  • Photo of Dr. Hopkins holding his honorary Yale degree.

    Yale University’s honorary Doctor of Medical Sciences degree recognition included: “Dr. Donald R. Hopkins, one of the foremost experts in disease eradication, was instrumental to the successful global effort to eradicate smallpox and is now leading the charge to conquer a second devastating illness.” (All Photos: The Carter Center)

  • Portrait style photo of Dr. Hopkins in Nigeria.

    Eight others received honorary degrees alongside Dr. Hopkins, including film director Ava DuVernay, author Judy Blume, labor leader Dolores Huerta, and comedian Stephen Colbert. Conferred by the Yale University’s board of trustees, these degrees recognize pioneering achievement or exemplary contribution to the common good.

  • Photo of Dr. Hopkins demonstrating how to use a pipe filter. A group of children look on.

    Dr. Donald Hopkins demonstrates how to use a pipe filter to prevent Guinea worm disease in Molujore, South Sudan.

Hopkins retired as vice president for health programs in 2015. He continues to serve actively as the Center’s special advisor for Guinea worm eradication.

Under Hopkins’ leadership, Guinea worm disease has been reduced by more than 99.99%. In 1986, there were approximately 3.5 million cases annually in 21 countries in Africa and Asia. In 2020, despite the global impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, just 27 cases were reported in six countries. Guinea worm is poised to become the second human disease in history to be eradicated. The first was smallpox, in 1980; Hopkins was instrumental in that campaign while in a leadership role at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In honoring Hopkins, Yale University President Peter Salovey read the following citation:

Courageous and brilliant warrior against disease, you have slain “the fiery serpent” and subdued “the greatest killer.” From Atlanta to Sierra Leone and bedsides around the globe, you purged ancient plagues and delivered healing to millions. In appreciation of your dogged determination and life-saving compassion, we humbly bestow on you the degree of Doctor of Medical Sciences.

Eight others received honorary degrees alongside Hopkins, including film director Ava DuVernay, author Judy Blume, labor leader Dolores Huerta, and comedian Stephen Colbert.

Founded in 1701, Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, is one of the leading institutions of higher education in the world. It began awarding honorary degrees in 1702 to individuals who demonstrate high achievement and exemplary service for the greater good. Past recipients include Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin Franklin, and Gloria Steinem.

Watch the Conferral of Yale’s 2021 Honorary Degree »


Contact: Emily Staub, (404) 420-5126;

Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in over 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.