ormer CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, wants to save 100 million lives.
In his first job since leaving the government, Frieden said he will lead a 5-year, $225-million initiative he hopes will reduce global deaths from heart attack and stroke and prevent deadly epidemics in low- and middle-income countries.
“After leaving CDC, I had the opportunity to think big, to look at the leading causes of death around the world and to combine that with lessons learned in nearly 3 decades of work in public health in this country and around the world,” Frieden, who stepped down from the CDC on Inauguration Day, said during a teleconference.
Frieden began his public health career in the early 1990s as a disease detective in the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service embedded in the New York City health department, which he would later run from 2002 to 2009. During his time as head of the health department, he led efforts to reduce the city’s number of smokers and teen smokers. The city became the first in the U.S. to eliminate trans fats from restaurants, starting a nationwide trend.
On Tuesday, Frieden said “a majority” of the funds for his new initiative will be spent trying to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease, which he said causes one out of every three deaths worldwide but is not targeted with nearly enough funding.
“Most of these deaths are preventable with simple, inexpensive but underutilized actions,” Frieden said. “The best estimate that we could find is that less than 1% of the $35 billion that goes into health assistance goes for prevention of cardiovascular disease, so these are significant resources in that context.”
In comparison, Frieden said the initiative’s role in preventing epidemics in low- and middle-income countries will be “more catalytic” than financial.
“We believe there are potential sources of funds within countries, with the World Bank, with other development banks, with bilateral donors around the world and with the private sector, which has an incentive to close those gaps,” he said. “But for both of these, our approach is to strengthen the public sector, support civil society institutions and establish rigorous surveillance so that we can determine whether we’re on track and then make corrective actions in both cases.”