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CDC combats global infectious disease threats

November / December 2011 | Volume 10, Issue 6

Close-up of CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, speaking into a microphone at a podium
Photo by Bill Branson/NIH

CDC Director
Dr. Thomas R. Frieden

"CDC is the 911 for the world," an African ambassador once told Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who recounted the quote as he delivered an impressive argument for why supporting global health is in the interests of the United States.

Using U.S. aid and technical assistance to advance global health "protects Americans from health threats, promotes stability in key countries, advances U.S. economic interests by preserving productivity and markets, and helps to detect and control emerging and re-emerging threats," Frieden told an audience of senior researchers and scientists at NIH.

Supporting global health generates knowledge as well as "a glow of goodwill," Frieden said, adding that it is also "the right thing to do and what a great country does." CDC's strategy is to translate the agency's domestic public health approaches on a global front. Such approaches may include technical assistance, direct funding, applied epidemiology and lab capacity development, embedding staff in health care organizations and improving lab quality. "Most of the world does not have the same confidence in their labs that we do," said Frieden. "We're working to change that."

Promoting tobacco control and preventing motor vehicle injury are two of the key priorities for the CDC in global health. Others are achieving and sustaining global immunization initiatives, including polio eradication; substantially reducing mother to child HIV transmission and congenital syphilis; and eliminating lymphatic filariasis in the Americas.

To buttress the "911" reputation, Frieden noted that the agency had conducted 41 field epidemiology training programs in the last 30 years and had established seven Global Disease Detection Centers.

CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden speaks, slide projected to his left
Photo by Bill Branson/NIH

CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden described his agency’s
global health efforts to NIH leadership and staff during
a recent visit.

From 1992 to 1996, Frieden led efforts in New York City to control TB and, in his lecture, used the disease to illustrate the efficacy of U.S. assistance in eliminating the disease worldwide. Globally, there were 8.8 million cases of TB and 1.4 million deaths in 2010, according to the WHO. Cases have been falling worldwide since 2006, incidence rates have been down since 2002 and mortality rates have fallen by one-third since 1990.

"But we don't have effective tools to control TB where HIV prevalence is high," Frieden said, "and this is an enormous challenge."

Frieden was named CDC Director in June 2009. His address, titled "A Public Health Approach to Infectious Disease Prevention and Control for the 21st Century," was this year's Kinyoun Lecture.

The lecture honors Dr. Joseph J. Kinyoun, who in 1887 founded the Laboratory of Hygiene, the forerunner of NIH, to study infectious diseases.

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