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Top job for smoking-ban official

UNITED States President Barack Obama yesterday named Dr Thomas Frieden, the man who made New York the first city in the nation to ban people from smoking in restaurants, as the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Frieden, 48, New York's top health official since January 2002, also made the city the nation's first to eliminate trans-fats from restaurants.

He will take over an organization that in recent weeks has been central to global efforts to understand and combat the swine flu virus, which has killed 65 people, including 60 in Mexico, and infected nearly 6,500 people in 33 countries.

"Frieden is an expert in preparedness and response to health emergencies, and has been at the forefront of the fight against heart disease, cancer and obesity, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS," the White House said in a statement.

"Frieden has been a leader in the fight for health-care reform, and his experiences confronting public health challenges in our country and abroad will be essential in this new role," the statement said.

Under Frieden's leadership, the city in 2006 launched the country's biggest community-based electronic health record project in a bid to improve preventive care.

Prior to his New York post, Frieden, who speaks Spanish, worked in India for five years on tuberculosis control and he has worked as an epidemiologist, administrator, teacher, researcher, clinician and community organizer.

The CDC has been headed by acting director Dr Richard Besser since January when former director Dr Julie Gerberding resigned.

Besser became the public face of the organization's fight against the H1N1 virus during daily televised news briefings and he will continue in his role coordinating CDC's office of terrorism preparedness and emergency response, the statement issued by the White House said.

CDC, which is based at a campus site in Atlanta, has a budget of around US$9 billion.

It is tasked with tracking disease across the US and helping other countries battle outbreaks of diseases ranging from H5N1 avian influenza to Ebola.

Frieden will start his job in June.


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