County’s ‘Cutting Edge’ Vision Brings in New Deputy Public Health Officer

New York winters are brutal. San Diego’s weather is beautiful.

But the warmer temperatures are not what made Sayone Thihalolipavan, M.D., M.P.H., leave the Big Apple and move to San Diego to become the County’s new deputy public health officer.

Thihalolipavan, 33, decided to accept the position because of the great work the County is doing to prevent chronic disease and improve the quality of life for all San Diegans.

 “One of the main reasons we moved here was Live Well San Diego. We have such a simple message that the whole County has adopted,” said Thihalolipavan, who now lives in Kearny Mesa with his wife and 4-year-old daughter. Live Well San Diego is the County’s vision of healthy, safe and thriving residents and communities.

“It’s so simple but so few other areas are doing it, that this is cutting edge,” added Thihalolipavan, or “Dr. T”, as his staff and colleagues call him.

Born in Nigeria to Sri Lankan parents, Thihalolipavan was raised mostly in Toronto and Buffalo, New York.

He received his Bachelor of Science in Biology from Purdue University in Indiana, a medical degree from New York University School of Medicine and a Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He is also board certified in Preventive Medicine and is currently an associate reviewer for the American Journal of Health Promotion.

During his six years with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Thihalolipavan worked on tobacco control, diabetes prevention, alcohol and drug use, vital statistics, lead poisoning, Ebola, and other emergency response efforts.

During the Ebola scare, Thihalolipavan was involved in the planning and implementation of quarantine-related efforts, initiating a call center to monitor people coming from Ebola-affected countries, and serving as the Ebola doctor on call to deal with clinical inquiries that arose during non-business hours.

His clinical work included treating patients with sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis (TB), and, most recently, in a smoking cessation program for government employees. In his last position in New York, Thihalolipavan served as Medical Director of the Clinical and Scientific Unit in the Bureau of Chronic Disease and Tobacco Control. He will continue to see patients in the County’s public health TB and STD clinics.

“Dr. Thihalolipavan comes to us with a great wealth of knowledge and experience,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “He is a wonderful addition to the County’s Health and Human Services Agency and the Public Health Services team.”

Thihalolipavan reports to Wooten and takes over for Eric McDonald. M.D., M.P.H., who is now the medical director of the HHSA Epidemiology and Immunization Branch. Thihalolipavan says he is particularly excited about his new position because he will be involved in Live Well San Diego and all areas of public health, especially the efforts to reach out to communities that have been disproportionately impacted by chronic disease.

“I especially like the idea of behavior change: how do we help people make the healthy choice the default choice,” Thihalolipavan said. “How do we help people adjust their behavior so that they have a lower risk of chronic disease?”

Thihalolipavan himself is looking for ways to be more active, especially now that he can do it year round.

“I love the outdoors and try to stay physically active by swimming and riding my bike,” said Thihalolipavan, who will soon venture up Cowles Mountain. “I am a water person. I can’t wait to try surfing because it looks so cool.”


José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact