Robert E. Fontaine, M.D., CDC senior epidemiologist and Resident Advisor to the U.S. Field Epidemiology Training Program in Beijing, China, has been honored with the Friendship Award of 2007. The Friendship Award is the highest honor given by the Chinese government to recognize non-Chinese experts who have made outstanding contributions to China’s social and economic development.
The award was presented by Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan in the Great Hall of the People during the 58th National Day Celebration of China.
Fontaine was recognized for his dedication since 2003 to improving the public health system in China, particularly through the establishment of infectious disease laboratory capacity, and strengthening of surveillance, rapid response, and containment of transmission of the H5N1 avian influenza virus.
“Bob Fontaine embodies CDC’s global health diplomacy goal—that CDC and the United States government are trusted and effective resources for health development and health protection around the world,” said CDC Director Julie Louise Gerberding, M.D. “His scientific integrity and talents in teaching have resulted in an unprecedented health ambassadorship between this country and the Chinese people.”
Rapid, effective investigation of outbreaks has been a hallmark of the China Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) during Dr. Fontaine’s tenure. Trainees have conducted more than 200 outbreak investigations, 131 surveillance projects and 44 planned field studies, including poliomyelitis, measles, plague, scarlet fever, typhoid and, rabies, dengue fever, and typhoon-related injuries.
During the awards ceremony, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told the award winners, “One day you will grow old. At that time, when you think about the days you spent in China, and the contributions you made for 1.3 billion Chinese people, you will certainly feel gratified. And all our Chinese people will appreciate your contributions from the bottom of our hearts.”
Dr. Fontaine joined the China FETP in 2003. Specific contributions since then include:
Design and execution of a major investigation of mysterious clusters of sudden unexplained deaths among all age groups in remote villages of Yunnan Province.
Identification of the first foodborne transmission of scarlet fever in a middle school in the Zhejiang province.
Dr. Fontaine received his BS in entomology (1968) and his MD (1972) from the University of California-Davis and received his MSc in medical parasitology (1981) from the London School of Tropic Medicine and Hygiene. As an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer at the CDC between 1973 and 1975, he worked in viral diseases and served four months in India on smallpox eradication. He followed his EIS training with a CDC assignment to the Colorado State Health Department, followed by a three year assignment at CDC’s Central American Research Station where he worked on malaria surveillance, epidemiology and control. In 1987 he began developing field epidemiology training programs, first in Saudi Arabia, followed by Jordan and Central America.