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Georgia OB-GYN Will Lead Centers For Disease Control And Prevention

Updated at 5:39 pm ET July 7: Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, an obstetrician-gynecologist who has served as the top health official in Georgia for the past six years, has been appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday.

"Having known Dr. Fitzgerald for many years, I know that she has a deep appreciation and understanding of medicine, public health, policy and leadership — all qualities that will prove vital as she leads the CDC in its work to protect America's health 24/7," HHS Secretary Tom Price said in a statement.

As CDC director, Fitzgerald will oversee an agency charged with detecting and responding to emerging health threats in the U.S. and abroad. The CDC also addresses chronic health problems that plague Americans, such as obesity and diabetes, and works on advancing science and technology that can help prevent disease.

She'll do so at a time when the agency's budget is under threat. The Trump administration has proposed cutting the CDC budget by $1.2 billion, which amounts to a 17 percent cut. As we've reported, that would include a $186 million cut to programs at the CDC's center on HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other sexually transmitted diseases. The CDC's chronic disease prevention programs, such as those for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and obesity, would be cut by $222 million.

At the time the budget was announced, Fitzgerald's predecessor Tom Frieden responded on Twitter, describing the proposed cuts as "unsafe at any level of enactment. Would increase illness, death, risk to Americans, and health care costs."

On Twitter on Friday, Frieden noted Fitzgerald's experience as a state health commissioner. "Listening to & supporting CDC staff, she can succeed," he wrote.

Fitzgerald, 70, has practiced medicine for 30 years in Carrollton, Ga., about 50 miles west of Atlanta.

As health commissioner in Georgia, she oversaw efforts to prevent the spread of the Zika virus and coordinated the state's response to Ebola. She spoke often about early childhood development and tackling childhood obesity, and advocated for the vaccination of babies and children to prevent disease.

In 2014, she noted her role as a mother in an op-ed she wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution titled "Babies need their vaccines."

"As a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist, I have seen the devastating and painful effects of whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases," she wrote in the column. "Get vaccinated. Help spread the truth on vaccines, not the diseases they prevent."

Before becoming health commissioner in Georgia, Fitzgerald made two unsuccessful runs for Congress as a Republican. She worked as a health policy adviser to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and also served as a major in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Michigan and Washington, D.C.

Elly Yu of member station WABE contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.