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Health News Florida

Trump Administration Appoints Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald As New CDC Director

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Now to someone who is joining the federal government. The Trump administration has named a new director to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald comes from Georgia, where she's led the state's public health department and where the CDC is located. She takes the helm at a time when the agency could face budget cuts. Elly Yu of member station WABE in Atlanta has more.

ELLY YU, BYLINE: Fitzgerald replaces Dr. Tom Frieden, who left the CDC in January at the end of the Obama administration. The 70-year-old is an OB-GYN and led Georgia's Public Health Department for the past six years. There, she's overseen efforts like preventing Zika and coordinating the state's response to Ebola. In 2014, several Americans who got the disease were treated at Emory University in Atlanta. Here she is at a press conference about efforts to contain Ebola in the state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRENDA FITZGERALD: We intend that if patients are treated here, we want to absolutely make sure that the medical people treating them are absolutely safe.

YU: During her time as public health commissioner, she's made early childhood development and tackling childhood obesity priorities. Fitzgerald also has deep political ties. She ran for Congress as a Republican twice in the 1990s and lost and served as health adviser to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Tom Frieden, her predecessor, says right now there are a number of public health challenges in the U.S. and globally she'll face as director. Those include the opioid epidemic and drug-resistant diseases. But his worries are also elsewhere.

TOM FRIEDEN: The biggest challenge Dr. Fitzgerald will face is the budget.

YU: President Trump's budget proposal cuts funding to the CDC by $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2018. Bills in Congress also call to eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which helps fund the agency. If that happens, Frieden says...

FRIEDEN: CDC would have to retreat from protecting Americans in this country and around the world. It would leave Americans more vulnerable to infectious diseases and other health threats. It would drive up health care costs. And quite frankly, it would mean avoidable deaths.

YU: Dr. Georges Benjamin leads the American Public Health Association. He, like others in the public health community, praised Fitzgerald's pick. He says he's hopeful of her ties with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who was a congressman from Georgia.

GEORGES BENJAMIN: You know, I hope that trusting relationship will allow her to make a really informed case for improving the CDC's budget situation.

YU: Fitzgerald says in a statement she's humbled by the challenges that lie ahead and is confident her experience in Georgia will guide her work at the CDC. Today's her first day on the job. For NPR News, I'm Elly Yu in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUNGLE SONG, "BUSY EARNIN'") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.