Activist group partners to lobby for TB funding

Hunger NGO picks TB as its newest cause

The TB control community has a new ally in a small but scrappy group of volunteers whose passion is to lobby Congress on behalf of worthy causes. This year, to the delight of public health experts who have become acquainted with the gung-ho band of activists, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) called Results International has jumped headlong into the politics of funding for global TB control.

A 20-year-old group dedicated to fighting world hunger, Results decided to short-list the disease this year as "a major cause," says Joanne Carter, DVM, a former veterinarian who left her career eight years ago to work full-time as the group’s legislative director.

Already, the new partnership between Results and the TB community is bearing fruit. In Anchorage, AK, a local newspaper published an op-ed piece detailing the struggle against the disease. The piece caught the eye of a staffer in the office of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

Stevens, as it turned out, was already worried about multidrug-resistant TB being imported on the trans-Pacific flights between his state and parts of the former Soviet Union. Plus, he knew TB was endemic among indigenous peoples in his state. What he didn’t know — until he read about it in the op-ed piece — was that U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was sponsoring legislation to boost funding for global TB control.

Stevens promptly offered to sponsor a Senate version of the Brown bill. To the pleased surprise of some insiders, both House and Senate versions of the bill are rapidly gaining steam. If the measure passes, and most insiders now bet that it will, TB stands to pick up at least $60 million and perhaps as much as $100 million for fighting the disease in poor countries. Even at $60 million, the amount would equal triple or even quadruple the amount of money Congress approved last year.

"We’ve seen an absolutely huge response in Congress, with broad bipartisan support," says Carter. "The TB issue had been dying of neglect, not opposition. Once people know more about the problem, they want to do something."

Chapters operating in 103 cities

Volunteers come from all walks of life, says Carter. Sometimes, members are recruited by one of the handful of organizers paid to start up local groups. More volunteers are found by word of mouth, and local chapters consisting of six to 10 members each are up and running in 103 American cities. A few paid staff members like Carter work in the organization’s headquarters in Washington, DC.

"We don’t have the name recognition of a group like, say, the Sierra Club," adds Carter, "but we work very hard."

Results was started 20 years ago by Sam Daley-Harris, a California musician and music teacher with an interest in doing something about hunger. As he grew more familiar with hunger issues, Daley-Harris was struck by the absence of any group lobbying full time for the cause. Eventually, he quit his day job and went to work full time building the organization.

With its aim of ending world hunger, Results has worked for years with UNICEF and other child-centered NGOs, Carter says. Two years ago, the group teamed up with the TB Project at Princeton Project 55, another group of full-time lobbyists founded by consumer activist and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

On World TB Day two years ago, Nader and Results members teamed up in a conference call to newspaper editorial boards and the cooperative effort paid off handsomely with lots of publicity, recalls Dana Deaton, Princeton Project 55’s TB project manager.

Since then, the group has plunged ever deeper into TB work, says Carter. "We’re always looking to see what constraints people are facing and what resources they need to end their own poverty. One thing we keep bumping into is access to resources. The other things are lack of access to education and health care."

Those findings inspired the group to work harder for microcredit lending programs, which lend modest sums of investment capital to struggling third-world entrepreneurs and try to find ways to improve health care for developing nations.

Even the work with credit agencies seems to lead back to TB, adds Carter. "A lot of micro-credit institutions we were working with in Asia kept telling us that the biggest reason people don’t move out of poverty is health," she notes. "And they said one of the biggest health problems people are facing is TB."

To educate themselves more about the disease, chapters have begun calling on TB controllers throughout the United States. South Carolina’s chief TB controller Carol Pozsik, RN, MPH, who spent a day recently telling Results volunteers about domestic TB control, says she hopes her colleagues will cooperate.

"As government employees, we’re not allowed to lobby for TB funding," Pozsik says. "But these people [from Results] are great. They’re real go-getters, so full of energy. Just tell people that when these folks call, be sure you answer."