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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
New WHO Chief Plans Training Program to Fight Epidemics
Lawrence K. Altman
July 21, 2003
New York Times (07.21.03) - Monday, July 21, 2003

Modeling a CDC program that has long helped the United States play a leadership role in public health, the World Health Organization will train young epidemiologists to battle global outbreaks, according to WHO's incoming director general.

Dr. Jong Wook Lee, a South Korean who today will become the director-general of WHO, said the new program will be designed after the Epidemic Intelligence Service, CDC's two-year training program that provides public health assistance to countries affected by outbreaks such as AIDS or SARS or by natural disasters.

Creating a similar program represents a bold step for WHO, which has traditionally focused more on providing advice to its 192 member countries and gathering experts for technical reviews. The plan for such a rapid-response program reflects in part a May vote by member nations to give WHO a stronger hand in investigating outbreaks.

The SARS epidemic earlier this year helped to underscore the need not only to battle epidemics but also to train future leaders in academic and research centers and health departments, said Lee. "It's very clear that WHO needs to create a program like CDC's," acknowledged Lee. "For many years, people have dreamed about doing it, and so I decided, let's do it." The Geneva-based program would provide a basic training course for recruits, some of whom would be assigned to schools of public health throughout the world and others to health departments in developing countries. The program would be open to applicants under age 35, primarily from developing countries, holding graduate degrees in a health-related field.

Initial reactions to Lee's plan were positive. CDC Director Dr. Julie L. Gerberding said her agency "would look forward to collaborating with the World Health Organization to expand" its epidemiology program. Dr. Peter Piot, director of UNAIDS, said the proposed program would "strengthen systems to monitor diseases, which are weak in many countries, and bring more young people into WHO." In 1978, Piot was among the first non- Americans to take CDC's course.