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Obama picks ex-NYC health chief for CDC

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama on Friday appointed Dr. Thomas Frieden as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, turning to New York City's health commissioner to deal with the swine flu outbreak and other major health issues.

Frieden has served as New York City's health commissioner for the past seven years. In that time, he spearheaded a campaign to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, boosted the number of New Yorkers getting HIV tests and helped to distribute millions of free condoms.

As head of the CDC, Frieden would be in charge of the government's response to the swine flu epidemic and other health crises.

In a statement announcing Frieden's appointment, 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."

Frieden will inherit a looming decision on how best to manage a swine flu outbreak, including whether or how to produce a swine flu vaccine. The virus has infected 6,673 people in 35 countries.

Immediate improvements sought

Health experts say the CDC needs to make immediate improvements in employee morale and organization as the Obama administration works to overhaul the national health care system.

"Dr. Frieden is an expert in preparedness and response to health emergencies, and has been at the forefront of the fight against heart disease, cancer and obesity, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS, and in the establishment of electronic health records," Obama said in the statement.

Frieden, 48, is expected to take office next month. His appointment does not require Senate confirmation.

He will succeed Dr. Julie Gerberding, who resigned in January. Dr. Richard Besser has served as acting head of the Atlanta-based CDC in recent months.

The White House announcement said acting CDC Director Dr. Rich Besser, who has led the CDC's Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response for the past four years, would return to that position.