CDC, PEPFAR, and UNAIDS to have New Leaders

A flurry of personnel and policy switches impacting global health and HIV/AIDS were rolled out recently, including many political appointments within US government agencies which coincided with President Barack Obama taking office on January 20. 
Obama’s administration named Richard Besser, a pediatrician and leading authority on disaster preparedness, to be acting director of the US government’s leading public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A permanent director will be chosen by Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. Besser replaces Julie Gerberding, a longtime AIDS physician who resigned January 20 after six years as director of the CDC.

Another key shift in US public health administration occurred this month with the resignation of Mark Dybul, the US Global AIDS Coordinator who spearheaded the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) for former President George W. Bush. The US State Department, which has authority over the Global AIDS Coordinator, confirmed that Dybul was asked to submit his resignation. A State Department representative said they did not know how long it would be before Dybul’s replacement is named. PEPFAR, which won widespread praise, has supported the provision of life-saving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for 1.7 million HIV-infected people in developing countries. The program, which was first announced in 2002 by Bush, was reauthorized last year for US$45 billion, including $9 billion in funding for malaria and tuberculosis programs (see VAX Aug. 2008 Global News on Passage of PEPFAR).

These changes within US agencies and departments coincide with a recent shift in leadership at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). In early December, the agency named its Deputy Executive Director of Programmes, Michel Sidibé, to lead UNAIDS, replacing Peter Piot, a Belgian physician who helped create UNAIDS and had been its director since 1995. Sidibé, a native of Mali, has a long tenure within the United Nations system, including 14 years with UNICEF.

Piot is now President of the Board of Directors at the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise and is also spending five months as a top health advisor with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He then plans to launch a global health institute at Imperial College London that will be dedicated to combating AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other deadly diseases afflicting poor countries. —Regina McEnery