The END7 campaign, through the support of Uniting to Combat NTDs, awarded scholarships to three outstanding student leaders to attend the third annual NTD Student Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. Read scholarship winner Paige Bagby’s reflection on her experience:
By Paige Bagby, DePauw University
Almost two years ago, I walked into an hour-long lecture on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) at DePauw University. Emily Conron, the Senior Associate of Resource Development & Policy at the Sabin Vaccine Institute and coordinator of student outreach for the END7 campaign, inspired me with an introductory lecture on the seven most common NTDs and the global effort to control and eliminate them. I stayed after the talk determined to get involved in this effort and learned about the work of END7, a grassroots campaign of the Sabin Vaccine Institute dedicated to raising the awareness, funds and political will necessary to control and eliminate the seven most common NTDs. Since August of 2015, I have been working to launch an END7 chapter here at DePauw. This May, I was given a life-changing opportunity to travel to Capitol Hill to put everything I’ve learned into action on the third annual NTD Student Advocacy Day.
After my classes on May 1st, I drove to the Indianapolis Airport and boarded a plane to Washington, D.C. Right before boarding, I received a schedule detailing that I would be meeting with the congressional staff of Senators Todd Young, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Dianne Feinstein and Roger Wicker. Overwhelmed with excitement, I memorized the biographies and policy interests of each senator.
The next morning, I arrived at the Capitol Visitors Center. While waiting in line to go through security, Bailey Miller, a Global Health major at Georgetown University and my host for the trip, and I quizzed each other on NTD facts, conversation starters for meetings with staffers, and much more. But most importantly, we tried to find the words to articulate that what we were advocating for is so important to the greater good of the world.
Standing in line with approximately 24 other students, all from different backgrounds, experiences and schools, I realized our common interests. I was inspired by the passion I saw in these students from all over the country – from Texas, Indiana, Massachusetts, Kentucky, California and more – advocating for treatment for diseases that may never personally affect them. We passed through security to go to our first destination, a briefing by representatives of global health organizations including the Sabin Vaccine Institute, Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases, Helen Keller International, and RTI International. The speakers shared the stories of their work, research and personal experiences with NTDs. That is when I realized the truth of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous saying, “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” As I prepared to walk into crucial meetings to advocate to protect funding for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) NTD Program for fiscal year 2018, I kept that thought in the back of my mind: to be without health is to be without a full life.
Walking into each senator’s offices, we all had the chance to make a difference and to make a change. The USAID NTD program works in solidarity with over 30 countries to control and eliminate the seven most common neglected tropical diseases, which infect 1 in 6 people worldwide, debilitating, disabling, and killing some of the world’s poorest people. Taking everything I have learned about global health and NTDs, I walked into my first meeting of the day with my very own senator, Todd Young of Indiana. This meeting was a life-changing experience. I had the opportunity to explain that as his constituent I am incredibly proud to say my tax dollars support USAID’s global health efforts, especially the NTD Program, because I know that eliminating these diseases will lead to a greater world. A decrease in NTD infections leads to an increase in education, economic prosperity, nutrition and maternal and child health. I carried this same passion to my next four meetings.
To wrap up a remarkable day, I had the incredible honor of attending a reception re-capping the NTD Summit which took place in Geneva, Switzerland to mark the 5-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s Roadmap on NTDs and the London Declaration. Presented at the Summit and pictured here is the Guinness World Record awarded to Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases for setting the record for “most medication donated in 24 hours” – more than 207 million doses of drugs to treat NTDs.
I was incredibly sad to say goodbye to all the wonderful students and global health experts I met throughout Student Advocacy Day. But, I was also incredibly humbled and honored by the experience the Sabin Vaccine Institute and other Advocacy Day partners provided me. I know the conversations I had that day and the things I learned will help prepare me for my future career in global health. The experience also reminded me that each person can make a difference whether that be by fundraising, volunteering or advocating.
Paige Bagby is a sophomore at DePauw University studying Global Health and Spanish.