Dr. Tom Frieden: People working in public health are stewards of the public’s trust

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Yesterday’s resignation by Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a stark reminder that all of us working in public health are stewards of the public’s trust.

This is also a reminder that the tobacco industry is different from other business interests. Because its products are addictive and kill when used as intended, it is evil in a way that other industries are not. Public health and health care professionals simply should not be involved in industries of death.

{mosads}Alex Azar, the newly confirmed Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, faces a triple challenge in selecting the next CDC Director. He must find someone willing to accept the job who will base decisions on science, has a track record of successfully managing public health programs, and who will effectively protect CDC  — so that the CDC can protect Americans.

 

I am confident that Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat will ably shepherd the agency and will make every effort to keep us all safe. Dr. Schuchat is highly respected both within and outside of CDC.

This is a precarious time. Our nation’s leading and most critical disease fighting force — the CDC — is facing budget cliffs and cuts that would make Americans less safe by devastating initiatives that protect Americans from diseases, disasters, and epidemics.

If funding for global health security isn’t found, CDC will have to retreat from the front lines of fighting — not terrorism, but terrible organisms — in 30 countries. Deadly threats that may emerge in these and other countries would be more likely to spread to our shores.

We can either help other countries stop disease outbreaks abroad or fight them here at home. No microbe is more than a day or two away from the United States.

Just last week, the CDC outlined its plans to recede from the field, close country offices, and stop funding programs that help countries find, stop and prevent disease threats. If funding isn’t provided by Congress and these plans are realized, the risk that an emerging epidemic will go unnoticed will increase greatly.

The opioid epidemic continues to rage in our country, and for the first time in 100 years — since the great influenza pandemic of 1918 — we are likely to see life expectancy decline for 3 years in a row.

The current epidemic was driven by over-prescription of opiates by doctors and is accelerating because of increasing availability of heroin and illicitly produced fentanyl. Evidence-based policies and analysis of the CDC are needed to inform political decision to take effective action to reverse the epidemic.

The greatest threat to CDC — and therefore a significant threat to the health of all Americans — is that CDC will not receive the funding it needs to protect the United States.

The next CDC director must be an effective advocate for the resources necessary to fulfill its mission of protecting America from health, safety, and security threats that arise at home and around the world. Given the potential for deep cuts to the CDC budget, it is imperative that the agency’s new head convinces all branches of government to continue urgently needed funding to protect Americans.

CDC is an extraordinary public health organization which, with good reason, is one of the most trusted institutions in the country. We can be confident that the dedicated and expert staff at CDC will do everything they can to keep Americans and the world safe.

I urge Secretary Azar to quickly appoint a leader who will fulfill CDC’s mission by basing decisions on science, leading the agency effectively, and protect CDC so CDC can protect all of us.

Dr. Tom Frieden is a former director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009-2017) and the president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives.

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