The Milbank Quarterly   |  November 30, 2020

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the world’s leading public health agency, so admired that whole regions and countries have borrowed its name—in Africa, Europe, even China. In past epidemics, CDC’s expertise was transformative, such as in AIDS, Ebola, Zika, and Influenza H1N1. If there ever were a moment for the CDC to show leadership domestically and globally, it was the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the CDC’s stature was diminished—not enhanced—in an administration that not only eschewed science and politically pressured the CDC, but also gave notice of withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO), where CDC staff were firmly embedded. Recognizing where the CDC fell short in 2020 can inform the Biden Administration how to reform and strengthen the nation’s public health agency. Deep structural reform should occur in at least five critical areas.

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