37-year-old Indian-American Vivek Murthy has become the youngest-ever US Surgeon General after being confirmed by the Senate, despite strong opposition from Republicans and the powerful gun rights lobby.
Murthy, who was confirmed yesterday by the US Senate by 51 votes to 43 more than a year after being nominated,
will be the first Indian-American to serve in the role.
President Barack Obama, who had nominated him in November 2013, said Murthy’s confirmation will better position the nation to save lives abroad and protect Americans at home.
His nomination saw a strong opposition from the powerful pro-gun lobby National Rifle Association and Republicans.
“I applaud the Senate for confirming Vivek Murthy to be our country’s next Surgeon General,” Obama said.
“As America’s Doctor, Vivek will hit the ground running to make sure every American has the information they need to keep themselves and their families safe,” he said in a statement.
“He’ll bring his lifetime of experience promoting public health to bear on priorities ranging from stopping new diseases to helping our kids grow up healthy and strong.”
The President said Murthy will also help us “build on the progress we’ve made combating Ebola, both in our country and at its source.”
Murthy has been endorsed by over 100 health organisations, including the American College of Physicians, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.
Earlier, pitching strongly for Murthy’s confirmation, Senator Dick Durbin praised him for his dedication to fighting obesity, tobacco related diseases and other chronic diseases that account for 7 out of the top 10 causes for death in the US and make up for 84 per cent of America’s health care costs.
“I believe Dr Murthy understands the importance of the national crises before him, and feel confident that his experiences, his training, and his tenacity have provided him the qualifications he needs to tackle these issues, and the many more he’s sure to face, head-on,” Durbin said.
“I’m thrilled the Senate has confirmed Dr Vivek Murthy as our next surgeon general,” said Congressman Ami Bera, who is the only Indian-American lawmaker in the current Congress.
“As a practising physician and instructor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a champion of innovation in medicine, and a leader in the medical community, Dr Murthy is an excellent choice for this role and his appointment is historic for the Indian-American community,” said Bera.
“There is no question about the qualification of Dr Murthy to do his job,” said another Senator Chris Murphy, adding that Murthy has a really impressive history of commitment to international public health, building two international organisations, one that empowers hundreds of youths in the US and India to educate over 45,000 students on HIV prevention.
“It is an opportunity to put a real leader in this position,” Senator Daniel Markey said.
On the one hand, when several Senators have lauded Murthy’s nomination there were others who continued to oppose his confirmation.
“The American people deserve a Surgeon General who has proven, throughout his or her career that their main focus is a commitment to patients, not a commitment to politics,” said Senator John Barrasso, Chairman Senate Republican Policy Committee.
“This is just another example of President Obama giving someone an important job based solely upon their support of the President’s political career,” said Barrasso.
“Now is not the right time for this nomination, and it is not the right job for Dr Murthy,” the Senator said majority of Murthy’s career has been “as an activist focused on gun control and political campaigns.”
In the last few weeks, Indian-Americans had been campaigning among Senators in favour of Murthy’s nomination.
Co-founder and president of Doctors for America, a position he has held since 2009, Murthy is a Hospitalist Attending Physician and Instructor in Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School, a position he has held since 2006.
In 2011, he was appointed to serve as a Member of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health.
Murthy has been the Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of TrialNetworks, formerly known as Epernicus, since 2007.
He co-founded VISIONS Worldwide in 1995, a non-profit organisation focused on HIV/AIDS education in India and the United States, where he served as president from 1995 to 2000 and Chairman of the Board from 2000 to 2003.
He received a BA from Harvard University, an MBA from Yale School of Management, and an MD from Yale School of Medicine.
He was born to parents who are originally from Karnataka. He came to the US when he was three years old and grew up in Miami, Florida.
The powerful pro-gun lobbying group, NRA made a last ditch effort against Dr Murthy. It wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, and Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell.