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“TB is a wholly modern epidemic, and it’s one of the most fascinating, horrifying, alarming things that any person could ever stand to learn about.”

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As Director of Policy and Strategy, Paul Jensen represents The Union at the very highest level.

paul jensen

As Director of Policy and Strategy, Paul Jensen represents The Union – and, by extension, tuberculosis (TB) and other lung health issues – at the very highest level. Just returned from Moscow, he was a delegate at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) first Global Ministerial Conference on Ending TB which ended with a Ministerial Declaration that reaffirmed the commitment to end the TB epidemic by 2030.

But at current rates of progress, TB will not be history any time soon.

Paul says, "If you consider the scale of the TB epidemic’s impact, and contrast that with how aware people generally are of what’s happening there, TB looks like the world’s best-kept secret. We need far more people involved, and for that to happen we need to shift how TB is perceived. When we talk to people about TB, it’s important for them to understand that TB is a wholly modern epidemic, and it’s literally one of the most fascinating, horrifying, alarming things they could ever stand to learn about."

Paul began consulting for The Union as a senior advisor for policy in 2014, helping to build the organisation’s capacity around policy communications. He then transitioned into a staff role in November 2016. "But I had been involved in The Union going back to 2005, when I attended my first Union World Conference on Lung Health in Paris".

Attracted by The Union’s institutional history as the leading TB organisation, its global reach, deep technical expertise, and its federation of influential members around the world, his first role for The Union was to help to revitalise The Union’s communications capacity, starting with strategy and messaging.

He says: "The Union’s most important work is aligning all of our diverse activities in such a way that we’re able to translate scientific evidence into public health action. We conduct important research, for example. But then we also publish and disseminate research all around the world, and we use the evidence generated through research as the basis for influencing public health policy".

Now, Paul’s day-to-day work involves serving on the Executive Management Team and driving the organisation’s advocacy strategy – and he is still working as part of the Communications Team.

His work is cross-cutting – he works with all of the organisation's departments in some capacity, and is involved in aiding departments in developing strategy, crafting messaging, and representing The Union in various forums. He's aiding the TB-HIV department in developing a new strategy, and recently reviewed a new tobacco control policy position on heat-not-burn nicotine products.

According to Paul, The Union's work has never been more relevant. With the 2030 End TB Strategy deadline fast approaching - but with progress seemingly stalled - global advocacy efforts to engage the world’s most senior politicians into making concrete commitments to prioritise TB are now paramount. But the clock is ticking. 

"Advocacy is vital for TB because political action is a fundamental part of the solution.

"The Union’s impact comes in large part through our influence in working with governments to take actions that will improve public health in their poorest communities. Grounding everything we do in the latest and best science means that people know us as an independent and credible actor that has one clear motive: improving public health.

"At The Union, we need to be working with our members to organise around advocacy goals to an extent that we’re not doing right now. We have so much influence and expertise and geographic reach across our membership. But we have to make the most of it."

The Union’s global network of skilled people is, for Paul, one of the most satisfying factors of working with The Union. "Across our membership and our work force we’re incredibly diverse, yet you see the same kinds of characteristics emerging from people who are a part of The Union. They care deeply about the quality and impact of their work. In so many cases, they go above and beyond their immediate duties in order to deliver the best possible outcome."

The meeting in Moscow was a critical milestone in the road towards the first-ever United Nations' General Assembly high-level meeting (HLM) on TB in 2018. For the TB community and its advocates, there is a lot riding on the outcomes of this meeting and preparation will be key.

"The HLM needs to turn the global tide against TB and set progress on a course toward elimination", says Paul. "Years from now we need to be able to look back on that gathering of heads of state and say, 'That was the day the paradigm shifted.'"

For Paul, the opportunities afforded by a meeting on this scale, are huge. "We can’t afford to think and act too small. The TB community can’t end TB on its own. The TB epidemic is fuelled by so many broader injustices—poverty, inadequate housing, malnutrition, the denial of universal human rights, stigma and discrimination—that we need to enrol a much broader coalition."

He quotes from the book 'The White Plague: Tuberculosis, Man and Society’'by René and Jean Dubos, that shows how broad the strategy needs to be: "TB presents problems that transcend the conventional medical approach…the impact of social and economic factors [must] be considered as much as the mechanisms by which tubercle bacilli cause damage to the human body." The book was written in 1952 – but the point is just as relevant.

For someone involved in advocacy to halt the progress of TB, inspirational sources are high on his list.  "I am inspired by the biologist and researcher, E. O. Wilson. I remember first seeing his picture in my science book in 6th grade, when I was 11. He was the first living scientist whose name I knew. He’s an expert on ants, so he spends a lot of time close to the ground looking at tiny things. But he also thinks in hugely expansive and visionary terms. His understanding of ants led him to create an entire field of biology that looks at how people behave within societies, which then led him to a unique theory about the unity of all knowledge. And among scientists, he’s one of the most effective communicators. The opening sentence of his textbook on ants is, 'Ants are everywhere, but only occasionally noticed,' which says as much about humans as it does about ants. That one simple sentence can shift a person's whole perspective on their environment."

Paul is an advocate even at home. "Growing up I had pet snakes, which I even took to school in my backpack sometimes. When my wife and I started dating, early on she told me something along the lines of, 'I need you to know that I would never be able to live with a snake.' Today we’re married and have a python named Celeste who my wife literally kisses. The power of advocacy!"