Obama Appoints “Dr. Condom” to Head CDC

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

A man known for his autocratic style who recently spearheaded a massive condom-distribution program in New York City has been appointed by President Barack Obama to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Thomas Frieden, 48, health commissioner for New York City for the last seven years, will assume his new duties at the CDC next month.

In a May 15 statement, President Obama said the new CDC chief had been a “leader in the fight for health care reform, and his experiences confronting public health challenges in our country and abroad will be essential in this new role.”

Before taking charge of New York City’s Department of Health, Frieden had been serving in the CDC since the early 1990s as an Epidemiologic Intelligence Service Officer who investigated issues such as a spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis, according to the White House. He holds medical and public health from Columbia University and completed infectious disease training at Yale University and has written more than 200 scientific articles.

During his tenure as health czar in New York City, Frieden launched several controversial initiatives, such as a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars and boosting the number of New Yorkers getting HIV tests.

His condom program, known as the “Get Some” campaign, aimed to distribute 35 million NYC-branded condoms to battle teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates. The City’s website trumpeted the program by saying, “Take the worry of disease and pregnancy out of your sex life – using condoms can make sex more relaxed and enjoyable. You can get NYC Condoms free of charge.”

The 2007 campaign generated a scathing denunciation from Cardinal Edward Egan who said: “The decision of the city of New York to distribute [26] million free condoms to the public — and minors as well, according to news reports — is tragic and misguided. . . . Our political leaders fail to protect the moral tone of our community when they encourage inappropriate sexual activity by blanketing our neighborhoods with condoms.”

According to a report on Examiner.com, Frieden is widely regarded as a “fun-hating activist health nut” who even the liberal Associated Press called “the nagging conscience of the nation’s biggest city” who made sure New Yorkers couldn’t smoke in bars or eat French fries cooked in artery-clogging trans fats.

Frieden is also a proponent of improving electronic health records and advocates for needle exchange programs to help combat drug-related spread of HIV and tuberculosis.

The Center for Consumer Freedom’s Senior Research Analyst, J. Justin Wilson, called the appointment “unfortunate,” saying the President has put the nation’s health in the hands of “an overzealous activist who doesn’t give any consideration to the importance of personal responsibility or privacy. Frieden doesn’t simply blur the line between what is the government’s responsibility in regulating health and what is the individuals responsibility; he barely recognizes its existence.”

Wilson goes on to recall how Frieden famously told the Financial Times that “when anyone dies at an early age from a preventable cause in New York City, it’s my fault.”

“What constitutes a ‘preventable cause’ for Frieden?” Wilson asks. “Essentially any behavior that he personally disapproves of, including: eating salty or fatty foods, ‘insufficient’ breast-feeding, and using birth control that isn’t city-approved. Following his myriad regulations in New York City, the New York Post quipped that Frieden had turned the city into ‘a nanny state on steroids.’”

In his new role, Frieden will inherit management of the swine flu outbreak, including the possible production of a swine flu vaccine.

His appointment does not require Senate confirmation.

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