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Seggerson takes reins of advocacy group
When the task is to awaken a sleeping princess, traditionally the job goes to a prince. Similarly, when the job at hand calls for jump-starting the engines of a stalled advocacy group, John Seggerson (the recently retired associate director for external relations at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s [CDC] Division of TB Elimination) seems like an obvious choice.
With 38 years of experience in public health, 19 of them spent as chief of program services at the CDC, the affable Seggerson is known and liked by virtually everyone in TB control. When money came available to fund a secretariat for the moribund National Coalition to Eliminate Tuberculosis, or NCET, he happily offered his services.
As NCET’s new executive director, Seggerson was hard at work on his first project last month, which was to call a meeting of TB controllers and other potential stakeholders in Baltimore. Participants at the two-day meeting, on Nov. 18-19, were expected to create bylaws, hammer together a five-year work plan, and form working groups to tackle projects such as publicizing World TB Day and providing training for how to do advocacy work.
"I don’t want to drive the agenda — that’s entirely up the membership," Seggerson said. "But I’m dying to see what will happen."
Founded by the American Lung Association (ALA) in 1991 during the height of the TB resurgence, NCET’s job was originally conceived as educating physicians about TB diagnosis and treatment, building coalitions at the state and local levels, and mobilizing public awareness and support for stronger TB control programs. Over the next decade, TB cases in the United States declined, and NCET did as well. Once a start-up grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation had run out, the ALA, using a modest donation from its sibling organization, the American Thoracic Society, tried hard to keep the organization vibrant, reports Fran DuMelle, deputy managing director of the ALA. "People got very comfortable with letting the ALA do it," she says. "But eventually, it got really hard for us to find the resources."
Years went by without the membership holding so much as a single meeting. A survey sent out to the 80 or so original members of the coalition asked whether it was perhaps time to pull the plug on the comatose coalition. Most respondents, it turned out, thought NCET was worth keeping. With no money and dedicated staff to nudge activities along and nurture membership, the coalition languished in what amounted to a state of suspended animation until 2000.
That year, NCET got a big break with the publication of the Institute of Medicine’s groundbreaking report, Ending Neglect: The Elimination of Tuberculosis in the United States. The report went out of its way to cite NCET’s role as key to the TB elimination effort. That, along with a talking-to administered by a fed-up DuMelle to CDC honchos, resulted in federal officials bestowal of a modest "educational" grant to the group — enough, at last, to hire a part-time permanent staffer.