Obama names new CDC chief

May 15, 2009 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, May 15 – President Barack Obama on Friday named New York City health chief Thomas Frieden as the new director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as it bids to contain the swine flu outbreak.

Frieden, 48, is an infectious disease specialist who left the CDC in 2002 after 12 years at the agency to serve as New York health commissioner.

Starting from early next month he will be addressing the national response to the swine flu outbreak that has already infected nearly 6,500 people in 33 countries, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures.

Frieden "is an expert in preparedness and response to health emergencies, and has been at the forefront of the fight against heart disease, cancer and obesity, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS," said Obama in statement.

Frieden’s experience at "confronting public health challenges in our country and abroad will be essential in this new role," the president added.

During his time as New York health commissioner, Frieden led a campaign to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, pressed for more HIV testing and backed a program handing out 35 million condoms a year.

The A(H1N1) influenza virus has been confirmed in 4,298 people in all but four of the 50 US states, according to CDC figures.

The White House said the CDC’s acting director Richard Besser will continue at the agency at the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response, where he has been for the past four years.

"Those preparations were essential during the recent H1N1 flu detection and response activities," according to the White House.

Among the looming decisions for Frieden would be how to best to develop a vaccine against the virus.

The New York Times also noted Friday that the CDC "must resolve serious morale and organizational issues," as the Obama administration works to overhaul the US healthcare system.

"Morale is the weakest thing at the agency right now," James Hughes, former director of the CDC’s National Center for Infectious Diseases, told The New York Times on Friday.

"He has to really listen to people, and I think there are too many bureaucratic layers."

Frieden, the Times said, was expected to take office next month, replacing Julie Gerberding, who resigned in January. Richard Besser has served as the CDC’s acting director since Gerberding’s resignation.

"I think the administration selected Tom Frieden because he can take public health to a new place," said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the non-profit public health advocacy group Trust for America’s Health.

"He’s a transformational leader."

Frieden’s position does not require Senate confirmation.


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