- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 16, 2009

ATLANTA | President Obama on Friday named Dr. Thomas Frieden, New York’s health commissioner, as director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Frieden will replace Dr. Julie Gerberding, who headed the Atlanta-based CDC for six turbulent years and who stepped down Jan. 20.

Mr. Obama said Dr. Frieden has been a leader in the fight for health care reform, “and his experiences confronting public health challenges in our country and abroad will be essential in this new role.”

Dr. Frieden, 48, has served as New York City’s health commissioner for the past seven years and has been outspoken on controversial health issues. He spearheaded a campaign to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, boosted the number of New Yorkers getting HIV tests and helped to distribute millions of free condoms.

Jeff Levi, executive director for Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit public health advocacy organization, called Dr. Frieden a “creative and a strong leader.”

“I think he will help bring CDC to new prominence in a reformed health care system,” Mr. Levi said.

Dr. Frieden is no stranger to the agency. He spent 12 years at the CDC, five of which were working on tuberculosis control in India.

Critics lambasted Dr. Gerberding, accusing her of sacrificing science for politics and carrying the Bush administration agenda on global warming and other issues into the world of scientific research.

Dr. Gerberding’s defenders, however, countered that she kept the agency above political concerns and expanded its mission to include bioterrorism research, combating AIDS globally and responding to national health threats.

Since Dr. Gerberding’s departure Jan. 20, the top job at the CDC has been held temporarily by Dr. Richard Besser, 49, who headed the CDC office that focuses on threats from biological, chemical, natural, infectious, nuclear and radiological sources.

In a message to CDC employees, Dr. Besser called Dr. Frieden “a consummate innovator.”

“I know CDC will be in great hands with Dr. Frieden,” Dr. Besser said. “I look forward to working with him during this transition and welcoming him when he arrives in early June.”

Dr. Besser said he will return to his previous post when Dr. Frieden arrives.

The new director will have his work cut out for him at the agency, which employs 9,000 people and has a budget of $9 billion.

Mr. Levi, of the Trust for America’s Health, says Dr. Frieden’s emphasis will be on science.

“Frieden has led the New York City health department where the science has taken him,” he said.

Mr. Obama called Dr. Frieden an expert in preparedness and response to health emergencies. He will inherit a looming decision on how best to manage a swine flu outbreak, including whether or how to produce a swine flu vaccine. The virus has infected 6,673 people in 35 countries.

Health experts also say the CDC needs to make immediate improvements in employee morale and organization as the Obama administration works to overhaul the national health care system.

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