On March 1, student leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., for the second annual END7 Student Advocacy Day. The event brought together 40 students active in END7 programs, from 15 colleges and universities across the country for 39 meetings with Members of Congress and their staff.
The students traveled to our nation’s capital on planes, trains and buses from as far as Texas and Florida to urge their elected officials to maintain U.S. leadership in the fight against neglected tropical diseases by protecting and increasing the budget for the USAID NTD Program.
They met with congressional offices to discuss the devastating impact of NTDs and how USAID has successfully led global progress against these diseases for a decade. After briefing Congressional staff, students answered questions and requested an increase of the USAID NTD Program budget to $125 million. One student participant, medical student of the University of Central Florida, described her group’s approach:
“As a future physician, my main argument was that we need to care for all human beings, regardless of where they are from. We have the solution and we need to use it. One student in my group, Beza Teferi, is originally from Ethiopia and has seen and experienced the effects of NTDs herself. Another student, Imani Butler, was able to provide the perspective from a research point of view. Her message was that we have a simple solution to these problems, so why not use them.”
Malvika Govil, a student from Rice University, discussed how the money allotted has a multiplier effect – for every dollar invested in treatment programs, pharmaceutical companies donate $26 worth of medicine. Finally, Sujay Dewan, from the University of Pennsylvania, delivered the request — an increase of the USAID NTD Program budget to $125 million to ensure that the last decade of progress continues and control and elimination efforts succeed.
END7 students are passionate advocates for the USAID NTD Program. The largest public-private partnership in USAID history, the NTD Program has leveraged more than $11.1 billion in donated drugs over the past decade. Yet, despite the clear impact of NTDs on health and development and the proven cost-effectiveness of treatment, President Obama’s FY 2017 budget proposal only allocated $86.5 million USAID NTD Program – a 13.5 percent cut in funding from the previous three years’ enacted level of $100 million.
Before their busy afternoon of meetings, students participated in a morning coffee with Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), co-chair of the Senate’s Malaria and NTD Caucus, and received a briefing in the Capitol from USAID, RTI International and Helen Keller International. Students then fanned out across Capitol Hill to meet with, in many cases, their own U.S. Senators or House members. The students were well received and numerous offices expressed an interest in supporting the NTD Program’s funding.
Spitzer reported that her group received positive feedback from Senator Lindsey Graham’s and Senator Marco Rubio’s staff and several offices asked for additional information and indicated they would oppose a proposed cut in funding to the USAID NTD Program.
At the end of the day, the students gathered for a closing reception with Barbara Bush, co-founder and CEO of Global Health Corps. Bush spoke movingly of her commitment to global health and developing the next generation of global health leaders.
Bush said, “It is critical that you continue to advocate and work for change by meeting with your representatives in Congress and amplifying your voice and the voices of other END7 supporters through petitions and op-eds. We have so much at our disposal to achieve great things, and we also have the possibility to reimagine leadership that can accomplish even more, including eliminating NTDs. This is exciting, even if it is a bit daunting. But I know, beyond a doubt, that we are up for the task.”
Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network, and Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, also shared remarks thanking students for their advocacy and urging them to continue the fight against NTDs.
Tayler McCord, a senior and secretary of END7 at Michigan State University, reflected:
“Attending Student Advocacy Day made me even more determined to help change the outlook for those affected by these debilitating diseases. This event not only allowed me to participate directly in this crucial political process but has also inspired me to continue to make my voice heard to our nation’s lawmakers. I am excited to share this passion with my peers at Michigan State and with members of our END7 chapter on campus. I hope to inspire and encourage others to participate in advocacy for NTD treatment to help make a positive difference in the lives of millions of people.”
We are so proud of our student advocates for delivering a powerful message on Capitol Hill.