Demetre Daskalakis, MD, who has led New York City’s response to HIV and other health crises including the COVID-19 pandemic, has been named director of the Division of AIDS Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As deputy commissioner for the Division of Disease Control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, he has directed all infectious disease programs for the city, managing responses to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis, vaccine-preventable diseases, and general communicable diseases. He has also served as incident commander during the measles outbreak of 2018-2019 and this year’s COVID crisis. He has been a contributor to Plus and one of its sister publications, The Advocate, including a Plus video series, The T With Dr. D.
He will assume his position at the CDC December 21, succeeding Dr. Irene Hall, the agency announced. “Dr. Daskalakis was integral in designing and leading many HIV and STD programs in New York City, including their Ending the Epidemic program, which is credited with decreasing HIV incidence to an historic low,” says a CDC press release. “We are excited for him to bring this leadership and experience to CDC to advance meaningful research, guide surveillance and programs, support and implement effective policy, and ultimately prevent HIV infections and increase HIV-related health equity across the United States.”
Daskalakis received his medical education at the New York University School of Medicine and did his residency training at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He also completed clinical infectious disease fellowships at the Brigham and Women’s Massachusetts General Hospital combined program and received a master of public health degree from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
He began his career as an attending physician at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, where he spearheaded several public health programs focused on community HIV testing and prevention. He has since served in various capacities in both health care and public health in the city. At the health department, he led one of its largest divisions, employing more than 1,100 staff, managing a budget of over $350 million, and operating 14 clinical facilities. He has authored or coauthored more than 50 scholarly articles and has received numerous awards for his scientific and public health contributions, including the Treatment Action Group Research in Action Award, the Latino Commission on AIDS Esperanza Award, the GMHC Hector Xtravagnza Xcellence Award, and the World AIDS Day awards from both New York City and New York State.
Daskalakis, who is gay, has been an activist physician with a particular focus on underserved populations, including the LGBTQ+ community. “I still get emotional talking about the early days of the AIDS epidemic not because I’m sad, but because I can’t believe how different the story is today,” he said in the CDC press release. “We have the tools at our hands to prevent infection and to keep people living with HIV healthy. Our barrier to achieving this vision is no longer science, it is systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.”
HIV activists praised the CDC’s choice of Daskalakis. “We look forward to partnering with Demetre to ensure that the CDC remains a leader in providing services desperately needed by our constituents,” NMAC Executive Director Paul Kawata said in a news release. “‘His history of delivering optimal HIV health care will be an asset to us all.”
“I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Daskalakis for quite a while,” added NMAC Director of Strategic Partnerships Ace Robinson. “He consistently makes time to not only address systems of HIV care impacting BIPOC but he also makes time to ensure individuals have the equitable access to care and treatment usually reserved for more privileged people.”
Kelsey Louie, CEO of GMHC, where Daskalakis was a board member, told Spectrum News NY1 the doctor “brought excitement, knowledge, skills and so much energy to that board.” Louie said Daskalkis will be an asset to the CDC. “He has the right combination of smarts and brilliance with bold ideas and actions, and when you have that as a combination, especially at a place like CDC, we’re just so excited and hopeful for all the things he can accomplish,” Louie said.
Rajesh Gandhi, chair ofthe HIV Medicine Association, also praised Daskalakis to Spectrum, saying, “He is a visionary public health leader whose experience will greatly advance the initiative to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S.”
New York City Health Commissioner Dave A. Chokshi lauded Daskalakis in a tweet: