Former CDC Director Tom Frieden Leads New Public Health Venture: Public Health Watch


Ex-CDC Director Tom Frieden's latest venture keeps him in public health.

Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, may no longer be working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but he is still actively engaged in national and global public health.

The former director of the CDC under President Barack Obama, who left the agency earlier this year with the arrival of the new administration in the White House, is working with Vital Strategies, an international health organization that partners with governments worldwide on policy implementation, on a new initiative called “Resolve to Save Lives.” As president and CEO of the program, Dr. Frieden will oversee a 5-year, $225 million effort to reduce global mortality associated with cardiovascular disease and improve the detection and prevention of infectious disease epidemics. “Resolve” was launched in September 2017, and has received its funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Fundamentally, I asked myself the question, ‘How can we save the most lives?’” Dr. Frieden told “CBS This Morning” on November 18, 2017, when asked to explain his involvement in the initiative. By addressing these 2 public health challenges, he added, “we can save 100 million lives and make the world safer from epidemics. There are 2 different initiatives, but they are linked by both being at a tipping point.”

Indeed, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally. In 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, more than 17.7 million people died as a result of a cardiovascular disease; yet, as Dr. Frieden told CBS, at present, less than 1% of global public health resources are devoted to heart attack and stroke prevention. In fact, he described cardiovascular disease as a “neglected problem.”

Of more relevance to Contagion® readers, of course, is “Resolve to Save Lives” efforts to address epidemics. For this aspect of the project, Dr. Frieden and “Resolve” will be working with countries globally—but particularly in the developing world—on the development and enhancement of “disease tracking systems” designed to identify outbreaks and monitor their spread, strengthening of lab networks to improve and speed up the process of pathogen identification, training and support of epidemiologists in vulnerable regions (where there is a high risk for an infectious disease outbreak), and the formation of “rapid response teams” to investigate and control outbreaks when they occur.

Dr. Frieden told CBS that outbreaks such as Ebola and Zika virus have highlighted the risks for the global community posed by diseases that are not properly identified—and controlled—where they originate. He expressed concern to the hosts of the morning program that proposed cuts to the CDC budget could “make us less safe” (meaning: The United States) because the reduced funding will hamper the agency’s efforts to work with their counterparts internationally to more effectively contain outbreaks.

“We are all connected by the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat,” he said. “The world is at risk. Anywhere there is a blind spot there could be a new disease emerging. We need to work with countries around the world to fight outbreaks there so we don’t have to fight them here.”

Although the efforts of Dr. Frieden and “Resolve” are certainly laudable, this latter bit is a strategy we’ve used before—it was the underpinning of former President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” strategy. And how effective it’s been remains up for debate.

Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.

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