Advocacy and Biosafety: An Unlikely Combination?

Before I delved into advocacy, I worked at the National Institutes of Health ensuring laboratories met biosafety requirements. I often feel torn between the world of advocacy and the so-called ‘technical’ aspects of public health. Last week at PATH’s event Sharing success, lessons learned and the way forward for TB in diverse settings, these worlds collided.

When Dr. Satish Kaipilyawar of India discussed difficulties upgrading India’s laboratories to biosafety level 3, I was intrigued.

What process did he use for quality control? How did he control biosafety training for laboratory personnel? I wondered. I had my ‘technical' hat on.

It switched off soon afterwards, and my ‘advocacy’ hat was back on when Dr. Katya Gamazina discussed the challenges of doing TB advocacy in the Ukraine.

It wasn’t until the final speaker, Svitlana Okromeshko, discussed the role of advocacy, communication and social mobilization (ACSM) in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that it clicked: Advocacy cannot be separated from technical work.

After all, Okromeshko explained, “[Advocates] can do things that cannot be done using clinical approaches.”

Advocacy cannot be separated from other aspects of public health work – it makes programs more effective and is a key piece of project management.

For instance, Dr. Kaipilyawar had to advocate for necessary funding in order to upgrade laboratories. He also worked together with both public and private sectors to develop national infection control guidelines, a process which he could have not completed without advocacy, communication, and social mobilization.

Pretty soon I realized I, too, was guilty of separating advocacy from other areas of public health. After attending PATH’s event I realized my background in biosafety isn’t that disconnected from my current advocacy work.

I think it’s time that we start collaborating with each other better. We need to start thinking of advocacy, communications, and social mobilization as an integral part of TB programs and ensure it is adequately funded.

Advocacy is part of all public health work. The sooner we realize this, the more effective we will be.