Robert R. Redfield, M.D., a clinical researcher who has specialized in studying HIV and other chronic human viral infections, has been appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Redfield comes to the CDC from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he has been the Robert C. Gallo, M.D., endowed professor in translational medicine, as well as a co-founder and associate director of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV).
At the CDC, Dr. Redfield succeeds Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., who resigned in January following months of disclosures about her stock holdings in companies within industries that fall under the purview of the CDC, which declares as its mission: “Protect America from health, safety, and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S.”
Dr. Redfield’s appointment as CDC’s 18th Director, and administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, was announced today by Alex M. Azar II, Secretary of the CDC’s parent agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The position does not require confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
“Dr. Redfield has dedicated his entire life to promoting public health and providing compassionate care to his patients, and we are proud to welcome him as director of the world’s premier epidemiological agency,” Dr. Azar said in a statement.
Dr. Redfield served as founding director of the department of retroviral research within the U.S. military’s HIV Research Program, and retired after 20 years of service in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Following his military service, he co-founded the IHV with Dr. William Blattner and Dr. Robert C. Gallo and served as the chief of infectious diseases and vice chair of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
At the University, Dr. Redfield made several key early contributions to the scientific understanding of HIV, including the demonstration of the importance of heterosexual transmission—early theories held that the diseases spread solely through homosexual transmission—the development of the Walter Reed staging system for HIV infection, and the demonstration of active HIV replication in all stages of HIV infection.
Dr. Redfield has also been a frequent author of research published in the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, published by GEN publisher Mary Ann Liebert Inc. AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses.
Most recently, Dr. Redfield was one among a group of eight co-authors whose study “Results and Implications of Routine HIV Testing in the Inpatient Setting: A Descriptive Analysis” was published online by the journal on February 1.
“It’s Anti-American to Discriminate”
“Establishing a process to routinize HIV testing and linkage to care in an inpatient setting identifies new and previously diagnosed HIV infected individuals who are not in care,” Dr. Redfield and colleagues concluded. “This process has potential to identify HIV earlier, lower community viral load, decrease transmission of HIV, reduce readmission costs, and improve population health. More research is needed to understand the contextual factors, facilitators, and barriers for providing linkage to care from acute to outpatient settings, particularly for previously diagnosed patients.”
During the 1980s, Dr. Redfield advocated for mandatory testing for HIV among military recruits and patients undergoing routine physical exams. While that stance drew criticism for contributing to the stigma associated with the disease, he also spoke out against discriminating against people with AIDS in testimony to Congress: “We have to tell people it's anti-American to discriminate against people who have the AIDS virus. It's anti-American to discriminate against anyone.”
In the 1990s, the U.S. Army cleared Dr. Redfield of scientific misconduct following an investigation about whether he overstated the beneficial effects of an AIDS vaccine candidate on which he had worked, as alleged by some Democrats in Congress and advocacy groups.
The criticisms of Dr. Redfield were revived this week by the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on Monday wrote a letter to President Donald Trump, urging him to reconsider the appointment of Dr. Redfield to the CDC helm.
“I write with concern about your Administration’s consideration of Dr. Robert Redfield to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), given his lack of public health credentials and his history of controversial positions regarding the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS,” Sen. Murray wrote. “I believe the CDC Director must first and foremost be a champion of public health and ensure this Administration embraces the science around public health in both its domestic and global work. I am concerned by Dr. Redfield’s lack of public health expertise.”
Dr. Redfield has not run a public health agency, but has overseen a clinical program providing HIV care and treatment to more than 5,000 patients in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region. More recently, he oversaw a treatment network in Baltimore for HIV and Hepatitis C patients—experience that “prepares him to hit the ground running on one of HHS and CDC’s top priorities, combating the opioid epidemic,” Dr. Azar added.
Dr. Redfield served as a member of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS from 2005 to 2009, and was appointed as Chair of the International Subcommittee from 2006 to 2009.
He is a past member of the NIH’s Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council the NIH’s Fogarty International Center Advisory Board, and the FDA’s Advisory Anti-Infective Agent Committee.
“While it will be a big loss for the institute, we are at a time in our nation’s history when Dr. Redfield’s skills will best be utilized as head of the CDC,” Dr. Gallo said in a University of Maryland statement. “He has been an outstanding leader as head of the institute’s Clinical Care and Research Division and a major force in establishing our clinical public health programs in Baltimore to confront the HIV and hepatitis C epidemics in our city and state. With his leadership, Dr. Redfield has also contributed greatly to the institute’s global health programs.”