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January 19, 2017

Outgoing CDC director Tom Frieden shares his greatest fear

Daily Briefing

CDC Director Tom Frieden recently submitted his resignation to President-elect Donald Trump and will leave his post effective noon Friday, Lena Sun reports for the Washington Post's "To Your Health."

President Obama appointed Frieden in 2009. Anne Schuchat, who has served as principal deputy director since 2015, will serve as acting CDC director upon Frieden's departure.

CDC: Providers have fallen short on 'winnable battle' of reducing certain infections

During his tenure, Frieden and CDC have faced significant public health challenges, including:

  • A growing drug misuse and overdose crisis;
  • The Ebola outbreak; and
  • The Zika epidemic.

In an interview with the Post, Frieden reflected on his time spent at CDC and the public health challenges that lie ahead. 

Frieden did not specify what he will do after he leaves CDC, but said he will ask himself—as he has done in all of his career decisions—"How can I save the most lives?"

What Frieden considers CDC's accomplishments

Frieden said CDC's work over the past eight years has helped improve U.S. residents' health and safety, citing the agency's response to Ebola, the opioid misuse epidemic, and smoking.

He also said CDC has improved its ability to thwart public health emergencies by training the "next generation of public health specialists" and increasing CDC's global laboratory, surveillance, epidemiology, and response capacity.

Challenges remain

Frieden said, "First and foremost," Congress needs to establish a rapid-response fund so that CDC can "move quickly when there's an emergency," similar to how FEMA can respond to an earthquake or a hurricane.

He noted that CDC had to wait nine months for funding to respond to Zika, adding, "A rapid-response fund would allow us to do the equivalent of stopping an earthquake."

Frieden also said certain public health programs that "save lives and save money ... are at risk" as Congress moves closer toward repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He said the ACA provides more than a 10th of CDC's funding, supporting immunization and tobacco control programs, "the epidemiology and laboratory capacity programs that find and stop threats," and other public health initiatives.

Frieden's biggest fear

When asked "what scares [him] the most" and "keeps [him] awake at night," Frieden replied that his "biggest concern is always for an influenza pandemic."

The flu, he said, "even in an average year, really causes a huge problem. And a pandemic really is the worst-case scenario."

"If you have something that spreads to a third of the population and can kill a significant proportion of those it affects, you have the makings of a major disaster," he added (Sun, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 1/16).

Hospitals must be prepared for myriad disasters that can stress health care systems to the breaking point and disrupt delivery of vital health care services.

Advisory Board has compiled step-by-step procedures for various threats your facility may encounter—though we hope you'll never need to use them.


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