Deborah Birx Nominated as New U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Tuesday Feb 18, 2014

Following her confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Dr. Deborah Birx, currently Director of Global AIDS at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be named as the new Director of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator. She will serve as an ambassador in the role formerly held by Eric Goosby, who has served since 2009. President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Birx in a Jan. 9 statement, in which he also tapped two other women to his cabinet.

"I am confident that these outstanding women will greatly serve the American people in their new roles and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come," said Obama.

AIDS service organizations from across the country lauded the move, which will leave Birx in charge of administering the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Birx is a pioneer in HIV/AIDS vaccine research, and was instrumental in organizing and implementing the landmark gp160 and RV 144 vaccine therapy efficacy trials.

"Dr. Birx is an internationally renowned expert on HIV/AIDS who has contributed significantly to groundbreaking research throughout her illustrious career," said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. "She brings to the table just the right mix of technical, management and leadership skills, and a keen understanding of what needs to be done to accomplish the AIDS free generation goal reaffirmed by President Obama in his State of the Union Address last year. We look forward to working with her."

The U.S. is the leading provider of international HIV assistance, accounting for almost half (49 percent) of all international HIV funding in 2012. PEPFAR supports antiretroviral treatment for over five million people and in 2012 alone prevented 230,000 children from acquiring HIV. Advocates hope that Birx will implement increased funding for PEPFAR, and improve the response among key populations like MSM, injection drug users and sex workers.

AVAC also lauded Birx's storied career in both HIV prevention research and service delivery, which has been characterized by passionate commitment to ambitious, innovative responses to the epidemic. Birx focused her early career on AIDS vaccine research, ultimately serving as Director of the US Military HIV Research Program as it initiated the RV 144 vaccine trial that showed in 2009 through modest efficacy that an AIDS vaccine was possible.

She is committed to the promise of combination prevention including the need for new tools such as an AIDS vaccine. More recently, as director of the Global AIDS Program at the CDC, she has helped keep the focus on setting and attaining ambitious prevention and treatment goals in communities around the world hard hit by the HIV epidemic.

"As a member of AVAC's board of directors, Dr. Birx has lent her experience and wisdom to our global advocacy work, and we know her as a keen advocate for a comprehensive response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic," said AVAC Executive Director Mitchell Warren. "We congratulate her on this nomination and look forward to continuing to work with her in the global fight to end AIDS."

Warren said that Birx's leadership would be essential in achieving the goals laid out in the PEPFAR Blueprint for Creating an AIDS-Free Generation, as well as to ensure that planned transitions from direct U.S. aid to country ownership of programs do not proceed at the expense of quality services, so that people get on and stay on AIDS treatment drugs.

"It is also critical that PEPFAR continue to engage with civil society as it drafts and implements its plans for country-level work. Dr. Birx, with her established commitment to working with civil society, will be a terrific ally for this work going forward," said Warren. "Finally, the PEPFAR program needs a strong advocate at home, and looks to Dr. Birx to ensure that PEPFAR remains fully funded and ambitious in its targets for the next five years and beyond."

Once appointed, her responsibilities will include heading U.S. President Barack Obama's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and managing relations between the Global Fund and the U.S.

"Debbi is absolutely outstanding," said Executive Director of the Global Fund Mark Dybul. "She is one of the best scientist-policy makers around, and she is also a great pleasure to work with. We look forward to doing great things together."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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