On March 21, 2018, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar announced the appointment of Robert R. Redfield, MD, a virologist, to serve as Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Redfield will be replacing Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, who resigned as director amid several unresolved financial conflicts, including the purchase of tobacco stocks made shortly after she accepted the position. Before joining the CDC, Redfield was a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the co-founder of the university’s Institute of Human Virology. He has extensive experience treating HIV patients as well as heroin addicts and has been praised for his work in Maryland on the opioid crisis.
However, his reputation as an HIV expert is not without controversy. In 1993, Redfield was investigated by the U.S. Army for allegedly misrepresenting data regarding an AIDS vaccine under research at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. In a letter to President Trump, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) also called out a policy advocated by Redfield in which HIV-positive soldiers were segregated from other soldiers. Redfield also helped implement an HIV screening program where military recruits were screened for the disease and barred from service if they tested positive. “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 spokesperson for public health,” Murray wrote in her letter. Redfield’s appointment is not subject to Senate confirmation.
HHS Secretary Azar called Redfield’s scientific and clinical background “peerless” when announcing his appointment. “Dr. Redfield has dedicated his entire life to promoting public health and providing compassionate care to his patients, and we are proud to welcome him as director of the world’s premier epidemiological agency,” wrote Azar.
Redfield will begin his directorship at a crucial time for the CDC given the increased pace of emerging infectious diseases worldwide and the widespread U.S. opioid epidemic. Earlier this year, the White House released its proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 that called for an eight percent cut to the CDC’s funding. In the recently passed Congressional agreement, the CDC received a $1.1 billion increase instead.
Impact on General Dentistry: The AGD will continue to monitor policy proposals and changes announced by the CDC. In the interim, the AGD looks forward to establishing a relationship with the incoming leadership at the CDC and to continue working together on issues of importance to oral health and general dentistry.