President Barack Obama on Friday appointed Dr. Thomas Frieden as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, turning to New York City's health commissioner to deal with the swine flu outbreak and other major health issues.
Frieden has served as commissioner for the past seven years, where he led 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.
In a statement announcing Frieden's appointment, Obama said the new CDC chief had 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."
Frieden 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. He leaves office a day after the city announced the emergency closure of three Queens public schools following an explosion in student flu cases and the hospitalization of an assistant principal with confirmed swine flu.
Mayor Bloomberg lauded the decision as great for the country even if it was the city's loss.
“When it comes to aggressive, innovative and effective approaches to help people live better, longer lives, our Health Commissioner Tom Frieden really stands in a class by himself," Bloomberg said. "That’s why it’s no surprise that President Obama has decided to appoint Dr. Frieden to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
Health experts 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.
"Dr. 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, and in the establishment of electronic health records," Obama said in the statement.
Frieden, 48, is expected to take office next month. His appointment does not require Senate confirmation.
He will succeed Dr. Julie Gerberding, who resigned in January. Dr. Richard Besser has served as acting head of the Atlanta-based CDC in recent months.
The White House announcement said acting CDC Director Dr. Rich Besser, who has led the CDC's Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response for the past four years, would return to that position.