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Obama To Name Hamburg To Head FDA

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The president intends to announce his nomination for commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration soon, and his choice is Dr. Margaret Hamburg. Here's NPR's Joanne Silberner.

JOANNE SILBERNER: The next FDA commissioner will not have an easy job. The agency's currently being criticized by Congress because it didn't prevent the current salmonella outbreak. That's after years of criticism for approving drugs too quickly. At the same time, it's being accused of taking too long.

So Margaret Hamburg's toughness could come in handy at the FDA. For six years in the 1990s, she was the commissioner of health for New York City. She started a needle exchange program to prevent the spread of HIV when those programs were controversial. And in the midst of the tuberculosis outbreak, she stepped up the Health Department's powers to make people take medications.

Here's what she had to say about that back in 1993.

Dr. MARGARET HAMBURG (Nominee for Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration): We do have individuals who have been repeatedly non-compliant, and that's why we feel we also, as public health officials, have to have the powers to take more aggressive action in those cases so that we can protect the health of the public.

SILBERNER: And in attacking HIV, she was willing to take on the Clinton administration, which was pushing for a broad national education campaign in 1993. She said that was not enough.

Dr. HAMBURG: I am concerned that these kind of nationwide advertising campaigns are not really effectively reaching those most at risk.

SILBERNER: She advocated focusing instead on a community-level approach. That didn't seem to upset anyone in the Clinton administration. Several years later, Hamburg stepped down as New York City Health Commissioner and joined the federal Department of Health and Human Services, where she worked on policy and planning.

Hamburg is very popular within the public health community. Georges Benjamin is head of the American Public Health Association.

Mr. GEORGES BENJAMIN (American Public Health Association): She is smart. She is tough, and she's experienced. You know, if I was hiring somebody to do a very, very difficult job for me, Margaret Hamburg is the person I would choose.

SILBERNER: Hamburg is currently with a think tank, The Nuclear Threat Initiative, where she works on bioterrorism issues and how to best prepare for natural or deliberate biological attacks. The administration is also expected to name Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as deputy FDA commissioner. He had been on the short list for commissioner, but was opposed by drug companies.

Joanne Silberner, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanne Silberner
Joanne Silberner is a health policy correspondent for National Public Radio. She covers medicine, health reform, and changes in the health care marketplace.
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