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Clinton Names Nurse, Health Administrator as First AIDS Czar

June 25, 1993 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton today named Kristine Gebbie, a former state health administrator, to be the nation’s first AIDS czar, saying the nation must ″look for unprecedented remedies to unprecedented problems.″

″We must redouble our government’s efforts to promote research, funding and treatment for AIDS,″ Clinton said in a ceremony on the White House south lawn.

He called Ms. Gebbie, whose formal title will be AIDS policy coordinator, ″a proven health-care leader″ who will bring years of experience to the job.

Gebbie is a former nursing professor who served as the Washington state secretary of health from 1989 until leaving the post this spring.

She will oversee a $2.7 billion effort to combat the disease and lend comfort to its victims.

″This position has never existed before but circumstances now require us to look for unprecedented remedies to unprecedented problems,″ Clinton said.

The appointment would ″assure our nation no longer ignores an epidemic that has already claimed too many of our brothers and sisters, our parents and children, our friends and colleagues,″ he said.

Gebbie said she was ″thrilled to have a chance″ to work on the problem.

″We’ve all been working a balancing act with this epidemic for a long time,″ she said. ″For too long, most of that balancing and coordination has had to happen at the local level.″

Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said the appointment ″sends a very clear message that health care in this country is very much the responsibility of health professionals, not just doctors but nurses and other kinds of health providers.″

Gebbie steps into a post that so far has existed only in title. The authority and duties have not been publicly defined.

″I think the nature of the job description will determine the effectiveness of that job,″ said Dr. June Osborn, chairwoman of the National Commission on AIDS. She called Gebbie a ″very able person.″

Candidate Clinton pledged support for AIDS research, government help for victims and to push to end discrimination against those infected with the virus. He also promised to appoint a policy coordinator, or AIDS czar, to oversee those efforts.

Although the AIDS community initially was hopeful because of Clinton’s election, it has expressed increasing impatience for faster action from the administration.

Meanwhile, The New York Times, quoted unidentified White House officials in today’s editions as saying Clinton would nominate Harold Varmus, a Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist from the University of California, to take over the National Institutes of Health.

White House spokesman Mark Gearan, asked about the report, said there has been no decision on an NIH director.

Gebbie’s appointment comes just a couple of days before the National Commission on AIDS is scheduled to release its final report. As with past reports, this one is expected to be critical of the administration.

Fourteen reports over the last four years have been scathing in their criticism of the Reagan and Bush administrations, accusing them of failure to deal decisively with the epidemic.

Gebbie had served for a year on a presidential commission on AIDS appointed in the Reagan administration. She also was chairwoman of an AIDS task force for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers.

The AIDS Action Council, an umbrella organization of AIDS advocacy groups, was pleased with the appointment.

″Ms. Gebbie brings to this position a long history of working to implement positive public health programs to combat the transmission of HIV and to serve the AIDS community,″ said Daniel T. Bross, executive director of the council.

However, the AIDS group ACT-UP, said Gebbie would not be up to the task.

″While she served on former President Reagan’s AIDS commission, Gebbie showed she lacks the sharp elbows necessary to command both the president’s and the public’s attention on the AIDS crisis,″ said Michael Petrelis, a spokesman for the group. ″Clinton’s selection of the first AIDS czar is a slap in the face of the AIDS community.″

As of March 31, acquired immune deficiency syndrome had been diagnosed in 289,320 Americans, of whom 63 percent, or 182,275, have died since June 1, 1981, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Clinton administration has proposed spending $2.7 billion on AIDS research, prevention and treatment in fiscal 1994, a 28 percent increase over 1993 spending.