HHS head names HIV expert Redfield as CDC director

Robert R. Redfield, MD, is the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the acting administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the nation’s largest science-based public health service agency. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar announced the appointment yesterday.

"Dr. Redfield has dedicated his entire life to promoting public health and providing compassionate care to his patients, and we are proud to welcome him as director of the world's premier epidemiological agency," Azar said in a press release accompanying the announcement.

Redfield and Azar represent the second-wave of Trump-era public health leadership after their predecessors resigned in the wake of scandals.

Azar replaced Tom Price as HHS secretary after Price used taxpayer-funded charter flights. In January, Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, stepped down as CDC director after reports surfaced that she traded in tobacco stocks.

Redfield replaces Anne Schuchat, MD, who has been serving as interim director of the CDC since Fitzgerald’s Jan 31 resignation. Schuchat oversaw the CDC through a severe flu season and growing concern over the country's opioid epidemic.

Controversial Redfield 'passionate' about underserved

James Curran, MD, professor of epidemiology and dean of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, told CIDRAP News he was "happy to see the next phase for the CDC begin" with Redfield's appointment.

For the last 20 years, Redfield, 66, has worked with HIV patients outside of Baltimore and has been a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he was co-founder and associate director of the school’s Institute of Human Virology.

According to the HHS, Redfield served as a member of the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS from 2005 to 2009, and was appointed as Chair of the International Subcommittee from 2006 to 2009. He was also a past member of the Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council at the National Institutes of Health, the Fogarty International Center Advisory Board at the National Institutes of Health, and the Advisory Anti-Infective Agent Committee of the Food and Drug Administration.

Unlike past directors, Redfield has never worked for a public health department. Critics also point to a resume marred with controversy. In the 1990s, Redfield was accused of falsifying data about an experimental HIV vaccine he worked on. He was eventually cleared of those charges, but the data had to be corrected.

At one point, Redfield also advocated for mandatory HIV testing among military personnel.

"I know Redfield as a committed and passionate physician," Curran said. "He's more conservative than some in public health, but he’s passionate about caring for the underserved. He's cared for gays, drug users, and done so without prejudice."

Curran said Redfield was very suited to take on the opioid epidemic, which President Trump signaled as a top priority of his administration.

The Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) released a statement on Redfield. "We are optimistic that Dr. Redfield's background should prove valuable in understanding the broad impact of opioid drugs on individual and public health," the IDSA said. "Sufficient and available medically-assisted therapy for heroin addiction through integrated treatment programs addressing both infectious diseases and opioid use will be essential."

IDSA emphasized the hope that Redfield will protect funding for public health and infectious disease research.

Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA), also released a statement on Redfield's appointment.

"CDC functions as the core of our nation’s investments in public health and prevention, and his leadership will be essential to the success of those investments," Benjamin said.

See also:

Mar 21 HHS announcement

Mar 22 IDSA statement

Mar 22 APHA statement

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