Issue: October 2017
September 12, 2017
3 min read

Ex-CDC chief Frieden launches global health program with $225M in funds

Issue: October 2017
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Thomas Frieden, MD
Thomas R. Frieden

Former CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, wants to save 100 million lives.

In his first job since leaving the government, Frieden said he will lead a 5-year, $225-million initiative he hopes will reduce global deaths from heart attack and stroke and prevent deadly epidemics in low- and middle-income countries.

The new initiative, called “Resolve,” will be housed at Vital Strategies, a public health nonprofit headquartered in New York City. It is said to be the first such program to be funded by three leading philanthropic organizations — the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

“After leaving CDC, I had the opportunity to think big, to look at the leading causes of death around the world and to combine that with lessons learned in nearly 3 decades of work in public health in this country and around the world,” Frieden, who stepped down from the CDC on Inauguration Day, said during a teleconference.

Frieden began his public health career in the early 1990s as a disease detective in the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service embedded in the New York City health department, which he would later run from 2002 to 2009. During his time as head of the health department, he led efforts to reduce the city’s number of smokers and teen smokers. The city became the first in the U.S. to eliminate trans fats from restaurants, starting a nationwide trend.

On Tuesday, Frieden said “a majority” of the funds for his new initiative will be spent trying to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease, which he said causes one out of every three deaths worldwide but is not targeted with nearly enough funding.

“Most of these deaths are preventable with simple, inexpensive but underutilized actions,” Frieden said. “The best estimate that we could find is that less than 1% of the $35 billion that goes into health assistance goes for prevention of cardiovascular disease, so these are significant resources in that context.”

In comparison, Frieden said the initiative’s role in preventing epidemics in low- and middle-income countries will be “more catalytic” than financial.

“We believe there are potential sources of funds within countries, with the World Bank, with other development banks, with bilateral donors around the world and with the private sector, which has an incentive to close those gaps,” he said. “But for both of these, our approach is to strengthen the public sector, support civil society institutions and establish rigorous surveillance so that we can determine whether we’re on track and then make corrective actions in both cases.”


During his career, Frieden has led or been a part of programs to reduce tuberculosis deaths in New York City and India, and led the CDC’s response to epidemics of influenza, Ebola and Zika virus as director. He said his experience puts him in a unique position to lead the new initiative.

“This is a case where leverage can make a huge difference, and with the vantage point that I’m privileged to have from the work that I’ve done over the past 30 years in global health and public health, I believe that we can build on the progress that’s been made to date to really accelerate it in both areas,” he said.

Frieden and Michael R. Bloomberg, the businessman and ex-New York City mayor who is funding part of the initiative, co-authored an article in the The Lancet to correspond with the announcement. It came 10 years after Frieden and Bloomberg penned a similar article on how to prevent 100 million deaths from tobacco.

In a statement, Bloomberg said the world “can’t sit back while people suffer needlessly” from cardiovascular disease.

“Saving 100 million lives would be an extraordinary achievement — and it’s within our reach,” Bloomberg said. “Tom Frieden helped us make unprecedented gains in life expectancy in New York, and he’s the perfect person to lead this global effort."

In a statement, Bill Gates said his foundation typically focuses on infectious diseases because of their disproportionate impact on the poor, but was compelled to support Frieden’s initiative over concerns about the growing rate of cardiovascular disease in low- and middle-income countries. – by Gerard Gallagher


Frieden TR and Bloomberg MR. Lancet. 2017;doi:10.1016/s)140-6736(17)32443.1.

Disclosure: Infectious Disease News was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.