The new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) opened his term Thursday with a speech emphasizing data-based science and the CDC’s duty to intervene in public health crises.
According to the Washington Post, Robert Redfield Jr. is a longtime AIDS specialist, focusing his career on “chronic human infections.” Previously, he directed the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland medical school.
During the 45-minute speech, he reportedly highlighted the importance of vaccines and called the opioid epidemic “the public health crisis of our time.”
His appointment has not come without criticism, however. He is known to have held controversial positions at the height of the AIDS epidemic, like mandatory HIV testing, and he lacks experience with governmental public health organizations, according to the Washington Post.
Redfield is taking the helm after former CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald resigned in late January after only a half a year with the agency, when a Politico report revealed some of her financial entanglements, including stocks in the tobacco industry, support that is at odds with the CDC’s position on smoking.
The CDC has received increased attention in recent months even before Fitzgerald’s resignation, when it was leaked in December that employees were instructed not to use certain words in the 2019 fiscal year budget narratives including “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
Redfield was appointed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on March 21 and sworn in on Monday.