We Have the Solution and We Need to Use It: Advocating for the USAID NTD Budget in D.C.

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 Nicole Spitzer’s reflection on her experience in D.C.:

By Nicole Spitzer, University of Central Florida College of Medicine

I was introduced to the END7 campaign while I was in the midst of planning a Global Health Conference at my medical school, the University of Central Florida College of Medicine. The theme chosen for this year was “The Global Burden of Neglected Tropical Diseases,” which was a topic that, even as a first-year medical student, I knew nothing about. My team and I began to research what NTDs are and how NTDs affect not only those infected, but also their families, the communities they reside in, and the economies of their respective countries. What struck me most while I was learning about NTDs was this question: why is this such a giant problem if many of these diseases are easily treated and cured? My faculty advisor, Dr. Judith Simms-Cendan, who has completed research on the NTD schistosomiasis, pointed my team to the END7 campaign. We decided to donate a portion of conference registration fees to the campaign and invited Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, home of END7, to deliver the keynote at the event. I became so interested in NTDs at the conference that when it was over and I received an invitation to attend the second annual Student Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., I knew I wanted to make the trip.

Nicole after a meeting in the office of her representative, Alan Grayson of Florida.

Nicole after a meeting in the office of her representative, Alan Grayson of Florida.

My trip to D.C. was nothing short of a whirlwind, as I was there for only 26 hours! On my flight from Florida to D.C., I was vigorously preparing for the four meetings I was scheduled to attend the next day in order to advocate for funding for the USAID NTD Program. I was delighted to see that my team would be meeting with the staffers of two Florida Members of Congress, Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Alan Grayson. As a constituent of their state, I knew that my team would have their full attention to advocate and raise more awareness for NTDs. I also knew that I would be able to provide a different angle as a medical student and future physician and I looked forward to meeting the other students I would be working with.

Before we headed into a long afternoon of meetings, we were briefed by representatives from USAID, RTI International and Helen Keller International, who provided us many compelling facts we could bring into each meeting. Kalpana Bhandari from the ENVISION project at RTI international shared personal stories that were very touching. Some of her family members live in Nepal, including her aunt, who works as one of the community health workers who lead local mass drug administration (MDA) campaigns. Emily Toubali, a representative from Helen Keller International, shared the details of a plan being rolled out to treat the morbidity and mortality associated with blinding trachoma and lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis. As a medical student, hearing these stories and learning about these programs has inspired me to become more involved in the global NTD effort in the future. From these briefings, we learned many strategies on how to conduct each meeting with a congressional office, highlighting the most compelling reasons for each member to support the USAID NTD Program budget.

Our afternoon of meetings was very successful, as my team consisted of students from a variety of different backgrounds, each offering a new and unique perspective on the effect that NTDs have on the communities that are affected and how the United States can help. 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 progress of the last decade continues and control and elimination efforts succeed, so we do not lose ground on the work that we have already accomplished.

Our approach really seemed to resonate in the meetings. Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and Senator Marco Rubio from Florida are both proponents for global health and we received very positive feedback from their staffers. The staffers of Colorado Senator Cory Gardner and Florida Representative Alan Grayson had many questions for us, which really allowed us to explain in depth what NTDs are and how they are affecting the world. We finished our meetings confident that we had made an impact and helped build support for the USAID NTD Program in Congress.

Barbara Bush, CEO and co-founder of the Global Health Corps, captured the central tenet of our advocacy best during her keynote our closing reception: “We are all here because we agree on one thing: health is a human right.” She also emphasized that, “great ideas don’t change the world, great people do,” which is why we need to act on these ideas now. As young leaders in our schools and communities, we have the passion and the voice to do so.

Nicole meets Barbara Bush, CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps, at the closing reception of the second annual END7 Student Advocacy Day.

Nicole meets Barbara Bush, CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps, at the closing reception of the second annual END7 Student Advocacy Day.

Nicole Spitzer is a first-year medical student at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine. Learn more about her experience at the END7 Student Advocacy Day in this article.

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