Leading AIDS researcher Robert Redfield is the new head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the University of Maryland professor of medicine is widely respected for his clinical work, critics say the 66-year-old virologist and physician has no experience leading a government public health agency and had controversial ideas on HIV testing during the first decade of the AIDS crisis, the Washington Post reported.
Redfield's appointment was announced Wednesday by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who said in a statement that Redfield's scientific and clinical background was "peerless."
During Redfield's two-decades at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, he made "pioneering contributions to advance our understanding of HIV/AIDS," said Azar, who also highlighted Redfield's more recent roll as head of a treatment network in Baltimore for HIV and hepatitis C patients, the Post reported.
Redfield's background prepares him "to hit the ground running on one of HHS and CDC's top priorities, combating the opioid epidemic," according to Azar.
Redfield's appointment as head of the CDC does not require Senate confirmation and he is expected to be sworn in and begin his new position within a few days, the Post reported.
While many applauded Redfield's appointment, critics noted that he supported controversial HIV testing policies during the first decade of the AIDS crisis.
When he was chief Army AIDS researcher in the 1980s, Redfield backed mandatory HIV screening, and recruits who tested positive for HIV were not allowed to serve in the military, the Post reported.
Redfield was closely linked with a controversial and failed effort in Congress in 1991 to require HIV testing for health-care professionals who perform invasive procedures.
While at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the early 1990s, Redfield was accused of misrepresenting data about the effectiveness of an experimental and ultimately unsuccessful AIDS vaccine. An investigation cleared him of scientific misconduct charges, the Post reported.
Also in the 1990s, Army investigators noted that Redfield had close ties with a conservative AIDS group that strongly backed the vaccine and received scientific details about it "to a degree that is inappropriate," according to a 1993 Science article based on an Army report, the Post reported.
Redfield's "lack of public health credentials and his history of controversial positions regarding the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDs" along with his pattern of "ethically and morally questionable behavior leads me to seriously question whether Dr. Redfield is qualified to be the federal government's chief advocate and spokesperson for public health," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wrote in a letter to the White House.
Putting Redfield in charge of the CDC would be "disastrous," according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
"What one wants in a director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a scientist of impeccable scientific integrity," the group said in a statement Wednesday, the Post reported.
"What one would get in Robert Redfield is a sloppy scientist with a long history of scientific misconduct and an extreme religious agenda," the center said.
Public health experts inside and outside the CDC expressed concerns about Redfield's limited governmental public health experience, especially when it comes to emergency responses, the Post reported.