Tuesday, October 28, 2008

‘Passion will win the day’

You can’t beat the Physicians for Human Rights’ pitch when trying to convince a decision-maker that the group has clout.

“We say that we are a human rights group that’s been around for 22 years, and in 1997 we were a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize,” said Jirair Ratevosian, the group’s Health Action AIDS Plan national field organizer. Having credibility is key in mounting an effective public health campaign, but if you didn’t win a Nobel Prize, other credentials will do.

Cool promotional materials also help. Before the “Mobilizing a Campaign Around a Public Health Issue” Annual Meeting session on Monday, attendee Lois Uttley ran out of hand-held fans imprinted with the Raising Women’s Voices message that women can work together to get quality, affordable health care for everyone. (She noted that they’re popular with the menopausal crowd for fighting hot flashes.) And they just have that old-timey feel of sitting in church on a hot summer Sunday, waving in agreement to the preacher’s sermon.

Another thing you need when championing a public health cause is a personal champion. In the fight to bring fluoridation to California’s water supply, APHA Oral Health Section President Howard Pollick and the California Fluoridation Task Force have C. Everett Koop, possibly the nation’s most popular and recognizable surgeon general, saying fluoridation is “the single most important commitment a community can make to the oral health of its children and to future generations.”

Uttley’s group has health reform champions in thousands of women who’ve faced challenges because of insurance coverage problems. In working for reauthorization of PEPFAR, or the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Ratevosian said personal messages from U.S. physicians and medical students as well as online postcards from those in Uganda and Kenya brought the needed zing to the issue. The law was reauthorized in August and included some language identical to Physicians for Human Rights fact sheets used in lobbying efforts.

For those of you who couldn’t make it to the session but have an important cause to champion, the eight key steps in advocacy are: 1) define the problem; 2) set campaign goals and objections; 3) get the facts; 4) choose targets; 5) understand the policy and decision-making process; 6) build alliances and coalitions; 7) choose actions and tactics; and 8) renew, review and re-energize.

I’ve never seen a more dedicated group of people than public health professionals, and that dedication will work in your favor when pressing for change, said Pollick, a California dental professor who had a toothbrush sticking out of his breast pocket during the presentation. Use your enthusiasm for change to get it done.

“Time and time again, passion will win the day,” he said.

— D.C.

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