In the late 1940s members of the American Rheumatism Association, a group of about 300 U.S. physicians focused on treating rheumatic disease, met to discuss the creation of a national effort to understand and cure arthritis. At the time, there were few treatment options other than aspirin. Only six treatment and research centers and seven medical teaching facilities served the estimated 7 million people across the country suffering from rheumatic symptoms. To work for change, the doctors formed the Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation. A nationally prominent businessman and arthritis patient, Floyd Odlum, was recruited by his physician to chair the organization. The board of directors met for the first time on May 6, 1948.
In the first year of the foundation's existence, a national campaign, chaired by the comedic actor Bob Hope, raised more than $500,000 for both research and clinics associated with the thirteen chapters formed that year. Research breakthroughs regarding autoimmunity and cortisone that same year also countered the then-prevailing idea that nothing could be done about arthritis.
Over the following decades, education efforts for both the lay and medical communities have prospered. The foundation continues to add new chapters within which health workers, patients, and family members contribute to research, communication, and service projects. Physicians held the first national medical conference in 1953; their continued advocacy work, assisted by volunteer-based chapters, led to the establishment of the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases within the National Institutes of Health.
The growing foundation has passed through several stages of reorganization since the 1950s. In 1964 the Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation was renamed the Arthritis Foundation. Special councils comprising foundation members interested in issues surrounding a particular rheumatic disease concentrate on efforts unique to that illness. Among these foundation councils is the American Juvenile Arthritis Organization.
Continued research has expanded the umbrella of rheumatic diseases to include more than 100 arthritis-related conditions; the number of people affected is estimated to be around 70 million. The foundation serves them through community-based clinics, educational resources, support and home study groups, and exercise classes. The Arthritis Foundation's information service responds to questions phoned in or e-mailed by more than 140,000 people each year. An important outreach tool for the foundation is Arthritis Today magazine. Issued bimonthly, this commercial publication informs Americans with arthritis-related illness of advances in quality-of-life issues and treatments. Public-relations efforts benefit from the continued association of celebrity fundraisers, who appear on telethons and in advertising campaigns. Medical journalists are recognized with awards honoring accurate writing on arthritis. In 1972 Congress designated May as National Arthritis month.
Since the mid-twentieth century, the Arthritis Foundation has mobilized researchers, public opinion, and political advocacy to aid arthritis sufferers Their efforts have facilitated remarkable advances in treatment, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and the expansion of Social Security and health insurance benefits to patients. The foundation continues to work toward increase research funding to improve the lives of citizens with arthritis.
Deborah Chasteen, Athens
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