January 10, 2014 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Obama nominates new Global AIDS office director
Barack Obama, Global AIDS, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama’s choice for the AIDS post was applauded by advocacy groups. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

President Obama on Jan. 9 nominated Dr. Deborah L. Birx, a retired Army colonel and AIDS researcher, to replace Dr. Eric Goosby as the new U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.

The official title of the position is Ambassador at Large and Coordinator of United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS Globally.

The office, which is part of the State Department, is in charge of administering the multi-billion dollar President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.

Since its creation in 2003 by President George W. Bush and its approval by Congress, the PEPFAR program has been credited with saving the lives of millions of people with HIV/AIDS in developing countries in Africa, Asia and other places by dispensing AIDS drugs and helping host countries improve medical treatment.

Birx has served since 2009 as director of the Division of Global HIV/AIDS at the Center for Global Health, which is an arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She served from 2005 to 2009 as director of the CDC’s Global AIDS Programs for the National Center for HIV, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention.

According to biographical information released by the White House, Birx served on active duty in the Army for 29 years in a wide range of medical and AIDS-related research positions. Among other posts, she served as director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program and as director of the Division of Retrovirology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research from 1996 to 2005.

She served from 1995 to 1996 as the Walter Reed institute’s laboratory director of HIV-1 Vaccine Development and from 1994 to 1995 as chief of the Department of Retroviral Research.

Birx also served as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina since 2012, a consultant to Walter Reed Army Medical Center since 1989, and an assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences since 1985. She received her M.D. from Penn State University.

If confirmed by the Senate as expected, Birx will take the helm at the Global AIDS Office at a time when the Obama administration is seeking to shift some of the costs of operating the PEPFAR program to host countries under U.S. supervision. Some AIDS groups have criticized the administration for reducing funding for PEPFAR in 2010. The White House argued that although modest funding cuts were made, PEPFAR more than doubled the number of people for whom it provided life-saving drugs since Obama took office in 2009.

“We have been able to pivot the PEPFAR program from what was an emergency response that was not sustainable to a sustainable response,” Goosby told the Wall Street Journal at the time he stepped down as head of the Global AIDS Office in late October.

“Our role now is not as the person who goes in and builds clinics,” the Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying. “Now we’re watching our colleagues in countries do that themselves, and if there’s a drop in impact we are there with them strengthening the weak links.”

Goosby returned to the University of California in San Francisco, where he taught and conducted AIDS-related research prior to heading the Global AIDS Office in Washington.

The New York-based Foundation for AIDS Research known as AMFAR said it “enthusiastically welcomed” Obama’s decision to nominate Birx as the next Global AIDS Coordinator.

“Dr. Birx is an expert on HIV/AIDS who has contributed significantly to groundbreaking research throughout her illustrious career,” AMFAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost said in a statement. “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.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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