7decades-smIt’s a milestone year for one of the world’s foremost public health champions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention celebrated 70 years of public health work and research this July with a special CDC Grand Rounds event entitled “Seven Decades of Firsts with Seven CDC Directors.” Current and former agency leaders presented about their time leading the organization, their many accomplishments, and the many changes that have occurred in public health in America over the last seventy years.

The event began with William H. Foege, MD, MPH, an APHA past president who served as director from 1977-1983. Though the CDC has dealt with infectious diseases throughout its history, smallpox was finally eradicated during Foege’s tenure. The HIV/AIDS epidemic also began during his direction, and the CDC’s next director, James O. Mason, Dr.PH, continued efforts to research and prevent HIV/AIDS. Mason was director from 983-1989, when the CDC also took a stronger stance and conducted more research on injury and violence prevention, as well as noninfectious health conditions like exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam War veterans.

“These were times of great satisfaction for me,” Foege said of his time as director of CDC.

“I think this is a tremendous part of the CDC history. Global health will continue to be an important part of CDC because we are the gold standard for the world, and the Ebola outbreak and now the Zika outbreak continue to show that the CDC effort is needed in order to provide for a healthy world.”

When William L. Roper, MD, MPH, became director in 1990, public health was increasing in complexity, moving the focus to prevention to address issues like breast and cervical cancer, birth defects, and vaccine-preventable diseases. David Satcher, MD, PhD, who became director after Roper, continued Roper’s efforts, spearheaded research and discussion on needle exchange programs and their effects on HIV transmission, and was faced with the responsibility of the CDC’s response to the obesity epidemic that spanned the 1990s.

Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, MPH, CDC Director from 1998-2002, was faced with the challenge of a changing time in public health; while maintaining the CDC’s research and disease prevention efforts, he had to accommodate the shift in focus of these efforts to address disparities in health, bioterrorism, terror response and global health. These changes continued through the term of Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, when public health began to address environmental health, veterinary and animal health, and the broadening scope of epidemiology.

“I think the lane for public health is what kills, injures, and disables people,” Koplan said, “and how can we  classify it, learn from it, and do something to stop it.”

Current director and discussion moderator Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, has been faced with not only modern infectious disease threats like Ebola and Zika virus, but has seen an increased focus throughout public health on social determinants of health since becoming director in 2009. Frieden said that, like past directors, he has made every effort to “do whatever we can to protect people and advance health.”

Read more at CDC, or watch the recorded Grand Rounds event here.