CDC Director Discusses New Global Health Efforts

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This post is by the Global Center’s Rabita Aziz.

Dr. Thomas Frieden discussed the Centers for Disease Control’s global health agenda today at an event sponsored by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Frieden, who became director of the CDC in June 2009, spoke about the CDC’s work in reducing the prevalence of global HIV/AIDS and about his commitment to tuberculosis control. Frieden led New York City’s efforts to control and reduce multidrug-resistant tuberculosis cases in the 1990s. He then went on to work with the Indian government to assist with national tuberculosis control efforts, which resulted in more than 10 million patients being treated and 2 million lives saved.

Frieden outlined the themes and goals of the CDC’s new Center for Global Health, led by Dr. Kevin DeCock. The new Center aims to strengthen the use of data to manage health programs and bolster governmental public health systems. Other goals include developing country capacity, ensuring global health security, and ultimately helping people live longer and healthier lives. Working to achieve these goals will generate trustworthy data that can be relied on to make good decisions, and it will also help create good public health sectors.

Frieden went on to say that it is essential to develop disease-specific programs as a means to achieving their goal of helping people live longer and healthier lives. He said it’s imperative to establish effective HIV/AIDS and TB programs, and implement methods that we know work, while also learning more about things we don’t yet understand. It is also imperative to garner political leadership and commitment, as many decisions made in the field of global health are political decisions.

He cited PEPFAR as an excellent example of what can be achieved with proper political commitment and leadership. Frieden explained that before PEPFAR, there were countries in Africa in which two-thirds of all adult deaths were attributed to HIV/AIDS. The scale-up of ARV treatment has drastically reduced these numbers and has extended the lives of millions. He went on to say that PEPFAR-funded ARV treatment has helped in reducing the spread of HIV as well. He also cited big successes in reducing the number of vertical transmissions, with over 300,000 children of HIV-positive mothers being born free of HIV in recent years. In addition, programs like PEPFAR help support ministries of health and strengthen health systems, which has a positive impact on other areas.

Frieden also spoke of the success of TB programs, which have cured 36 million patients and have saved 5 million lives in the past 15 years. Despite these achievements, Frieden emphasized that TB programs need to be strengthened further, as there are too many countries facing drug stock-outs and dealing with poor laboratory capacities.

One audience member asked Frieden to comment on the recent reports of of HIV-infected persons being turned away from clinics in PEPFAR countries such as Uganda, in part because of flatlining of funding for global AIDS programs. Frieden responded to this concern by saying, “We’re not at a situation in any country where we’re limiting expansion.” He went on to say that an effort is being made to encourage other nations to step up their own treatment programs.

Watch a portion of Dr. Frieden’s discussion here:

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