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Remembering Bill Jenkins, Whistleblower and Epidemiologist

Date Published
Feb 24, 2022

February 24, 2022. On February 17, 2019, epidemiologist and whistleblower Bill Jenkins died in Charleston, South Carolina at age 73. This Black History Month, we remember his contributions in the field of healthcare whistleblowing.

As a recent college graduate, Jenkins was “one of the first African Americans recruited to the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.” One of his early activities calling out racism and discrimination was publishing the anti-discrimination newsletter the Drum. The Drum soon became a forum for circulating the discovery of the unethical Tuskegee experiment. Through his work with the Public Health Service (PHS), Jenkins found out about the PHS studying—but not treating—Black men infected with syphilis in Tuskegee, Alabama since 1932. While medical journals described study participants as “volunteers,” the participants were in fact not informed of the deadliness of the disease nor the available penicillin treatments. Of the original approximately 300 “participants,” only 74 remained when the study was finally exposed and ended, with most having died from complications due to the otherwise treatable disease.

While Jenkins’ and others’ efforts in the Drum did not stop the Tuskegee experiment in the late 1960s, by 1972, a former investigator with the Public Health Service looped in the press. The study made front page news, leading to its end. Along with two other unethical medical experiments from the mid twentieth century, the Tuskegee experiment was “credited with spurring the passage of the National Research Act, which created a commission to identify basic research principles and formalized an ethics review process for federally funded studies.”

Following his time with PHS, William Carter Jenkins built on his degree in mathematics (bachelors, Morehouse College, 1967) and sought further study in biostatistics (masters, Georgetown University, 1974), public health (masters, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1977), and epidemiology (PhD, UNC, 1983). His colleagues noted in The Lancet’s obituary that Jenkins was “ ‘enormously successful’ in two regards: convincing the public health establishment to consider disparities a core issue and increasing the number of African Americans and minorities entering the field.”

Dr. Jenkins was part of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study Legacy Committee, a group of medical professionals who urged President Bill Clinton to issue an apology for the study. Dr. Jenkins also managed the Tuskegee Health Benefit Program, administering medical coverage and health benefits to study survivors.

As Dr. Jenkins noted after President Clinton’s apology for the Tuskegee experiment in 1997, “[African Americans] are concerned about public health research because they’re alienated from American society in any number of ways, and this study is the bellwether. It’s much bigger than just this study and we’re going to have to do a lot more work than just apologize for this.”

Whistleblowers with knowledge of discrimination and misuse of government funds in healthcare research are encouraged to step forward, because of the devastating effects corrupted or unethical research can have on public trust and scientific integrity.

If you would like to report healthcare fraud, you can contact attorneys at Tycko & Zavareei LLP. Eva Gunasekera and Renée Brooker are former officials of the United States Department of Justice and prosecuted whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act. Eva was the Senior Counsel for Health Care Fraud. Renée served as Assistant Director at the United States Department of Justice, the office that supervises False Claims Act cases in all 94 United States District Courts. Eva and Renée now represent whistleblowers. For a free consultation, you can contact Eva Gunasekera at [email protected] or contact Renée at [email protected] (tel.: 202-417-3664). Visit Tycko & Zavareei LLP’s website for whistleblowers to learn more at

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