Thomas Frieden

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The Man To Take on Zika

As New York City’s health commissioner during the Bloomberg administration, Dr. Thomas Frieden imposed a controversial smoking ban in workplaces citywide that’s been credited with helping to reduce smoking among New York adults from 21.6% to 16.9%. To fight cardiovascular disease, he produced regulations eliminating trans fat from all city eateries despite the restaurant industry’s adamant opposition. And to reduce HIV/AIDS, he distributed New York City’s own branded condom, ignoring outcries from conservative Catholic and Jewish groups.

Now, as director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Frieden, 55, is up against Congress in combatting Zika. The disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes and via sexual contact, is rarely serious for those it infects. But pregnant women can transmit it to their fetuses, causing babies to be born with severe brain malformations and other serious defects. President Obama has asked Congress for an extra $1.9 billion in emergency funding for mosquito eradication and other steps to fight the disease. But even as Zika takes root in Southern states where the mosquitoes that carry it thrive, Republicans are rejecting the request.

Frieden isn’t giving up. It’s not in his blood or upbringing. His grandfather came to the U.S. from Lithuania with no English, but earned a doctorate in chemistry from Columbia University. His father, who served in the Korean War, devoted his life to medicine, and his mother has a law degree and a doctorate in Russian history. “The decisions that are made in the coming weeks are going to have implications for decades to come,” he warned in September.

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Thomas Frieden

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