Redfield named to lead the CDC
HIV/AIDS researcher Dr. Robert Redfield has been named as the next head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a day after he faced allegations of misconduct.
In a written statement announcing the pick, HHS Secretary Alex Azar lauded Redfield's career "promoting public health and providing compassionate care to his patients."
"Dr. Redfield's scientific and clinical background is peerless," Azar said.
Redfield, 66, is a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and co-founder and associate director of the school's Institute of Human Virology.
In his role at IHV, Redfield oversees a clinical program that provides HIV care and treatment to more than 6,000 patients annually in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area, according to the school's website. It is in that work where those who know him say he has become expert in treating heroin addiction, since intravenous drug use carries a higher risk of transmitting infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis.
But it's his research decades ago that got him into hot water yesterday when Kaiser Health News reported that in 1994, the U.S. Army found inaccuracies in Redfield's HIV vaccine research. Redfield was principal investigator over clinical trials of a treatment vaccine at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The research was conducted at a time when there was intense pressure to come up with a treatment for HIV/AIDS, which often killed patients within a matter of months.
"Either he was egregiously sloppy with data or it was fabricated," former Air Force Lt. Col. Craig Hendrix, a doctor who is now director of the division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine told Kaiser Health News. "It was somewhere on that spectrum, both of which were serious and raised questions about his trustworthiness."
The Army eventually concluded that the data errors did not constitute misconduct.
And colleagues say his current work makes him the ideal choice to lead the country's public health agency.
"I want somebody in that agency who actually understands opioid addiction and wants to address and want to deal with it," said Dr. Carlos del Rio, chair of the department of global health and a professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine's Rollins School of Public Health.
"The AIDS epidemic in the United States particularly in cities like Baltimore is infinitely tied up with substance use and substance abuse," said Dr. James Curran, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. "I think that experience he has in Baltimore is very, very relevant to the opioid epidemic that we've been seeing over the past two decades."
Curran and del Rio both described Redfield as a determined individual who puts all of himself into his work. They said his experience fighting infectious diseases all over the world would serve him well in his new role taking on the challenge of combating an opioid epidemic that killed nearly 64,000 people in 2016 alone.
"He understands that it's a public health problem and he understands that at the center of it is addiction and the role stigma plays in dealing with it," Curran said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), an often critic of the Trump administration, approved the choice.
"Both sides of the aisle should be pleased that this deeply experienced and compassionate public health physician is willing to take the helm of the CDC," Cummings said in a statement.
Sen. Patty Murray from Washington, a ranking Democrat on the Senate's health committee, on Tuesday sent a letter to President Donald Trump expressed her concerns over Redfield's HIV research in the 1990s.
"This pattern of ethically and morally questionable behavior leads me to seriously question whether Dr. Redfield is qualified to be the federal government's chief advocate and spokesman for public health," Murray wrote.
In his statement, Azar made no mention about the past controversy around Redfield's research work.
Redfield replaces Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, a former commissioner for the Georgia Department of Health who resigned as CDC director in January after reports surfaced that she has invested in a Japanese tobacco company after taking the job.
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