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May be the right entity to give states a kick
With a new office, a fresh injection of funding, and a restored sense of mission, the National Coalition to Eliminate Tuberculosis (NCET) has given itself some homework: Put a face on TB. (See related story, p. 72.)
"We need to figure out what it is people see when they hear the word TB’ and then develop a consistent image, "says Fran DuMelle, national executive director of the American Lung Association (ALA) and longtime adviser to the newly revived coalition.
What that face will look like isn’t clear. Still, when it comes to the media or a visiting member of Congress, there are certain things best left unspoken, DuMelle said earlier this year in an address to the Advisory Council to Eliminate Tuberculosis: Please, no lab animals, and no need to mention outbreaks. On the other hand, she added, do try layering TB on top of more consumer-friendly issues, such as clean air.
The target of such messages has shifted, too, from federal to state and local levels, DuMelle says. That shift reflects not so much despair at yet another year of level funding from Congress as it does a growing sense that it’s high time states and locals took up some of the slack.
"People need to know there’s more to TB control than just grants from the federal government," says Lee B. Reichman, MD, MPH, executive director of the National TB Center at the New Jersey School of Medicine. "We can’t have states think that they can just stop funding TB control programs, and the national government will take care of it. What we need is more political will at the state level."
That said, a logical question might be to ask why NCET just packed up its New York office and moved to Washington, DC? Well, explains Reichman, it’s because that’s where you find the people who know how to do the lobbying; in particular, DuMelle. "From a staff point of view, Fran knows more about TB than anyone in the country," he says. "No. Make that anywhere on earth."
The move to Washington can only be regarded as a step up. NCET’s life in New York was, for a time, the bleak existence of an orphan child. Looking after its needs was a single harried ALA staffer preoccupied with five or six other full-time jobs. There was no money once a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation expired. Nor was there much action, given that last year’s only scheduled meeting was called off and NCET’s four task forces had ceased operation.
At one especially low point, NCET found its head on the chopping block, awaiting the results of a survey DuMelle mailed out: Should the ALA pull the plug or try to resuscitate the ailing coalition? Luckily, 90% of poll respondents gave it a thumbs-up, DuMelle says. "After some arm-twisting from Reichman and others, ATS agreed to provide financial support plus the full-time services of a staffer who could fire off action alerts and keep track of pending legislation.