January 2014 ScienceSpeaksBlog; The White House has nominated a physician scientist whose career began three decades ago with a focus on immunology, vaccine research, and global health, to succeed Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Dr. Eric Goosby and lead the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief.
Dr. Deborah Birx, who as director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control’s Global AIDS Program serves as point person for PEPFAR implementation at the CDC, was named today to fill the post that has stood vacant since November 1, when Ambassador Goosby left the position to return to clinical research and practice. Dr. Goosby’s principle deputy, Deborah Von Zinkernagel, has been leading the office in the interim. Birx will still need to be confirmed by the Senate, following a hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Birx, 56, has headed the CDC’s GAP since 2005. She previously served for nine years as director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program. Her 28 years of military service encompasses 14 years as a reserve officer and 14 years as a regular army officer. As head of the Military HIV Research Program she led development of the Thai trial that became the first clinical research study to show the possibility that a vaccine could protect against HIV.
“Dr. Birx’ depth of commitment, expertise and experience in global health and specifically in the global HIV response is unparalleled,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, director of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Epidemiologic Research CIDER at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “She is poised to move PEPFAR forward, building on its enormous success to date, towards achievement of our ambitious goals for a world without AIDS.”
“Dr. Birx is uniquely qualified to assume this important post,” Dr. Kenneth Mayer, co-chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Center for Global Health Policy, which produces this blog. Mayer cited her training in medicine and clinical infectious diseases, her leadership roles in the US Military’s response to the Global AIDS pandemic, and her responsibility in developing the CDC’s Global AIDS Program. “The Center for Global Health Policy of the IDSA is pleased that President Obama has selected a strong successor to Drs. Mark Dybul and Eric Goosby, ensuring continuation of the US’s commitments to controlling the AIDS epidemic and improving the lives of people infected and affected by HIV.”
The announcement today answered the first of two questions circulating for months, since word that Goosby planned to leave. The second question: How long the multi-billion dollar program, the largest in the world dedicated to fighting a single disease, will remain without a leader, remains. After former Global AIDS Office Ambassador Mark Dybul’s dismissal in January 2009, the position remained vacant until Dr. Goosby was sworn into office nine months later, four months after President Obama nominated him for the post.