My First Advocacy Experience – But Not My Last

The END7 campaign awarded scholarships to three outstanding student leaders to attend the second annual END7 Student Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. Read scholarship winner Tayler McCord’s reflection on her experience in D.C.:

By Tayler McCord, Michigan State University

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Tayler (second from right) after her group’s first meeting of the day in the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

My involvement with neglected tropical disease (NTD) advocacy and fundraising began only a few months ago when I cofounded an END7 chapter at Michigan State University along with seven other undergraduate students. We each had an interest in public health and saw the importance of getting involved with NTDs. Prior to starting a chapter of END7, my knowledge of these diseases was very limited and I was not aware of the devastating burden of NTDs on global health. As I became more involved with END7 at MSU, I felt even more determined to raise awareness and funding to help eliminate these devastating yet preventable diseases. When I received an invitation from the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases to attend the second annual END7 Student Advocacy Day on March 1 in Washington, D.C., I was ecstatic. I knew that this event would be an incredible opportunity to be involved, firsthand, in the process of advocating for an issue that I had become very passionate about over the past year.

NTDs are a group of diseases that affect one in six individuals worldwide. Not only do they cause disability and disfigurement, NTDs also perpetuate a cycle of poverty by preventing children from attending school and receiving an education, by preventing adults from working and earning an income for themselves and their families, and ultimately preventing impoverished communities from growing and flourishing economically. Thankfully, these diseases can be treated and prevented at an incredibly low cost, making END7’s goal of ending the seven most prevalent NTDs by 2020 attainable – with the necessary political support and funding. Therefore, advocacy to policymakers is a crucial component of END7’s mission.

When I arrived in Washington, D.C., for Student Advocacy Day, I was unsure of what to expect, since I had never before been involved with advocacy on any issue – and certainly not at the political center of the United States on Capitol Hill! But I knew that regardless of my background, this would be a critical opportunity to help raise NTD awareness and provide a political voice for the 1.4 billion individuals afflicted by these diseases.

We began Advocacy Day with a coffee meeting with Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. During the meeting, I got to speak with two of the Senator’s staffers about END7 and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) NTD Program. After briefly speaking with them about what we hoped to accomplish on Capitol Hill that day – building support for the USAID NTD budget – I felt even more confident and enthusiastic about our afternoon meetings with other congressional offices. Following our coffee meeting with Senator Wicker, we listened to speakers from Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, USAID, RTI International and Helen Keller International. Each of these speakers gave a unique perspective on the various efforts from different agencies and organizations to eliminate these diseases and mitigate the debilitating effects they have on those already infected. We were then briefed on our meetings with congressional offices with some advocacy “nuts and bolts” and key points to cover about NTDs and the USAID NTD program.

Following our briefing, we divided into small groups of students from different universities and began brainstorming on how we would go about our meetings. During my group’s four meetings with Senate offices, we each spoke about an aspect of NTDs that we were particularly passionate about, ranging from the effects of NTDs on maternal and child health to the strong private public partnership that has been established to treat and prevent NTDs in 25 countries through the USAID NTD Program. We also made sure to bring up key points about the program, such as the incredibly low cost of just 50 cents to treat and prevent the seven most common NTDs, as well as the 678 million individuals that have received treatment from the USAID NTD Program so far! Since President Obama proposed a $13.5 million dollar cut to the USAID NTD program in his FY17 budget, our main goal of the meetings was to advocate against this cut – and push for an increase of $25 million to $125 million in funding for this program. Without this crucial funding, we risk losing the progress we have made toward ending these devastating diseases. We concluded our meetings by asking each Senator to support the increase in funding for the USAID NTD program as well as to join the Senate Caucus on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases.

After spending one day advocating for NTD funding on Capitol Hill, I truly believe that it will not be my last. Although I felt passionate about END7’s goal before the event, attending Student Advocacy Day instilled in me an even greater passion for this issue and made me even more determined to help change the outlook for those affected by these debilitating diseases. The END7 Student Advocacy Day not only allowed me to participate 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 others at Michigan State University 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.

Tayler McCord is a senior at Michigan State University majoring in clinical laboratory science with a minor in global public health and epidemiology. She currently serves as the Secretary of END7 at MSU.

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