Category Archives: NTDs

Putting Everything I’ve Learned into Action on Student Advocacy Day

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

sa day 1Almost 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.

sa day 2Walking 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.

From the Capital of MS to the Capitol of the US

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 Bethany Summerford’s reflection on her experience:

By Bethany Summerford, University of Mississippi Medical Center

student adv day pic 3I first learned about END7 last fall at the beginning of my first year of medical school when I attended a lecture that promised free lunch on my campus. When the hour was over, I walked away with much more than a stomach full of pizza. Learning about END7 and the struggles so many of the world’s poorest people deal with every day due to neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) compelled me to become more involved. I joined the Global Health Interest Group at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in hopes to do more to help further the END7 campaign’s goals. When I heard about NTD Student Advocacy Day and was invited to attend, I jumped at the chance to advocate for global health funding through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

My day in Washington, D.C., began with coffee at Mississippi Mornings, a constituent coffee held each Tuesday by Senator Roger Wicker in his D.C. office. Not only is Sen. Wicker the senator of my home state, he is also Chairman of the Malaria and NTD Caucus. Having the opportunity to have a quick chat and snap a picture with someone who is so passionate about this cause was a great way to kick off the day.

I spent the rest of the morning with my fellow Advocacy Day participants in a briefing where representatives of several organizations involved in NTD advocacy, programming and research gave presentations and updates on their roles in eliminating these diseases. The one presentation that spoke to me the most was given by Zeina Sifri from Helen Keller International (HKI). Ms. Sifri spoke about eyelid surgery used to treat trichiasis, which is the stage of trachoma infection that causes blindness due to eyelashes scratching the cornea.

Sifri introduced us to the HEAD START program, where surgeons are able to practice the trichiasis surgery on a mannequin designed to simulate patients they will see in areas affected by trachoma. As a future health care provider, I was amazed at the innovation and creativity needed to prepare physicians to treat NTDs in the field. Watching videos of patients who have received the surgery and hearing about the positive turn their lives had taken made me see the real impact of these surgeries, funded through the USAID NTD Program.

student adv day pic 4

Following the morning briefing, we were broken up into small groups and began to plan our strategies for the afternoon meetings in congressional offices. Each meeting started with our group leader, Michelle Brooks from Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Centre, giving a brief overview of END7, NTDs, and the need to protect funding for the USAID NTD program, which is at risk of being cut.

The two other members of my group and myself then each spoke about the progress that has been made against NTDs and called for continued US support of the cause. One of the coolest marks of progress, in my opinion, is the Guinness World Record recently set by members of the Uniting to Combat NTDs coalition. On January 30th, 2017, these partners donated more than 200 million NTD medicines around the world – enough to set a world record for “most medication donated in 24 hours.” That is so awesome!

My group was able to meet with the offices of senators from Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, California and Mississippi. Even though offices from many different states (and different political parties) were represented, they all agreed on how important it is to maintain the current level of funding for global health and development. It was refreshing and encouraging to hear their support for continuing the fight to eliminate NTDs.

Advocacy Day ended with a reception in the Capitol building, where we were all able to see and take pictures with the Guinness World Record. We also had the opportunity to listen to remarks by Loyce Pace, President of Global Health Council, who left us with inspirational words and a charge to continue to advocate for global health. After attending Student Advocacy Day, my passion for fighting NTDs has grown even more. I hope to become more involved with the effort to eliminate NTDs and definitely plan to attend Advocacy Day next year.

Bethany Summerford is a first year medical student at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Making a Difference – and Having an Amazing Time Doing It

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 Shangir Siddique’s reflection on his experience:

By Shangir H. Siddique, University of Texas Health Science Center

student adv day pic 2Life-changing. That is how I would describe my experience on NTD Student Advocacy Day. As a student who had just finished my Master of Public Health in Epidemiology and was about to start medical school in the fall, I had never thought I would be able to step into the world of the United States Government and have a direct impact on policymaking…at least, not this early. And yet, that is exactly what we, END7 student leaders from across the US, did on May 2.

Given that an appropriations deal for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017 had been reached in Congress just days before Student Advocacy Day and that it protected funding for the United States Agency for International Development NTD Program, we were able to focus our Advocacy Day message on how potential future budget changes could drastically curtail our ability to treat and prevent NTDs worldwide. The key goal of the day was to convince our representatives in Congress to keep level funding for the program in the face of deep cuts to global health and development proposed by the Trump administration.

We began Advocacy Day with a series of presentations by professionals in the field. Michelle Brooks of Uniting to Combat NTDs started us off by giving a basic overview of the USAID NTD program, which tied in directly to our advocacy goal of protecting funding for this program. Kalpana Bhandari inspired us by explaining her experiences with NTDs both professionally and personally, sharing stories from her childhood in Nepal. As someone whose family comes from a country where some NTDs are endemic, I found her story to be exceptionally touching, and it motivated me to approached the day’s efforts with my all. Lastly, we learned about new surgical solutions to address NTDs from Zeina Sifri of Helen Keller International. These approaches to surgery and morbidity management complement the preventative approach of mass drug administration and could prove to be a life-changing solution for millions of people for whom taking currently available medications are not sufficient to prevent further disease or relieve suffering (such as in the case of elephantiasis caused by lymphatic filariasis). After a brief lunch where we went over our talking points, it was time to begin our jobs as advocates!

As part of group 5, I met with the offices of Representatives Kay Granger and Gregory Meeks, as well as Senator Chris Murphy’s office. As part of our “pitch” we explained what the USAID NTD Program has achieved since its creation under President George W. Bush, how the United States’ investment in global health, specifically the USAID program, is a smart use of resources that saves lives and enables effective foreign policy Latin America, Asia and Africa. Fortunately, the unanimous response from all three offices was great support towards maintaining the U.S.’s current position as a leader in global health. I found this to be extremely interesting, considering the differences between the three offices – both by political party affiliation and by which chamber of congress in which the member served. It was heartening to realize that partisanship is not strong enough to interfere with our country’s long history of global leadership in public health and medical interventions, innovation and advancement.

Perhaps my favorite part of Student Advocacy Day was the opportunity to interact with and learn from students interested in global health and NTDs from across the country. The wide representation we had state-wise proved to be effective in terms of using our status as constituents during our meetings. But beyond accomplishing our goals, it was extremely easy to bond with the other students and share our hopes, interests, and aspirations relating to NTDs and otherwise. I made a point to keep the contact list we were provided and take many pictures, and I am certain that many of the next generation of global health leaders will emerge from this group of students.

student adv day pic 1

Walking into our advocacy meetings with the knowledge that the funding for the USAID NTD program was safe for the remainder of fiscal year 2017 but uncertain for 2018 was an excellent motivator for us to do our best to plan ahead. The current uncertainty around the Administration’s outlook on expenditures like foreign aid, including the USAID NTD Program, are deeply troubling for not only the NTD and global health community, but for all citizens of the U.S., and individuals all over the world. The risks associated with the U.S. potentially backing down from its leadership in global health would have severe repercussions across the globe and foretells a future where we may no longer be able to say we are a force for good worldwide – diminishing some of the U.S.’s global influence, which we have maintained since World War II.

It is my sincere hope that Congress lives up to its constitutional duties as the controller of the purse strings of the U.S. Government and makes smart, forward-thinking decisions about spending on global health and international development. While the Administration may attempt to advance a different agenda, it is up to our representatives on the Hill in both the House and the Senate to remember how their constituents not only desire a well-regarded and influential America but one that helps the impoverished worldwide as well.

Shangir Siddique recently completed his Master of Public Health-Epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center. He will start medical school this fall.

NTD Awareness Week 2017, from Acoustic Night to Zumba

On January 30, the fifth anniversary of the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), END7 student supporters around the world kicked off the second annual NTD Awareness Week. For seven days, students held fundraisers, led advocacy activities and raised awareness of the burden of NTDs and the incredible promise of the global effort to end them for good.

Here are some of the highlights from a fun and busy week:

The END7 Mexico Chapter, led by students at Lalo Onti - Noche acústica END7Anáhuac University in Mexico City, raised awareness of NTDs among students and faculty on campus by creating five unique posters about NTDs for display on the University’s Faculty Board (with plans for 13 more posters in the works!). END7 Mexico members shared more than 100 posts about NTDs on social media throughout the week. Dr. Diego Abelardo Álvarez Hernández, a postgraduate student and representative on the END7 Campus Leaders Council, welcomed a new faculty member to the Anáhuac University NTD Interest Group, increasing the University’s research focus on NTDs like Chagas disease present in Mexico. To end the week, the group planned an acoustic night at Peña El Sapo Cancionero, a large venue that they completely filled for a special concert with musician Lalo Onti. Ticket sales for the event raised nearly $500 for END7!

Georgetown t-shirt tues 2The students of END7 at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. kicked off NTD Awareness Week with Media Monday, a social media blast of facts about NTDs and END7, and T-shirt Tuesday – a fun way for END7 members to wear their support for END7 on their sleeves and raise awareness of NTDs! They ended the week with a fundraiser at South Block Juice Co. on Thursday and a pizza party to gather as a club to watch END7’s Facebook Live Q&A with Dr. Peter Hotez on Friday.

Northeastern zumba 1END7 at Northeastern University planned a full slate of activities to celebrate NTD Awareness Week in Boston. Throughout the week, club officers gave short presentations in science classes to recruit new members to their END7 chapter and advertise the week’s events – including a fun Zumba workout class fundraiser! Students sweat and shimmied for a good cause, raising $100 for NTD treatment. They refueled on Friday with a pizza party to watch END7’s Facebook Live Q&A with Dr. Peter Hotez.

Northeastern pizza party

END7 at the University of Texas-Dallas organized a fundraiser at the restaurant Raising Cane’s on January 30, with the restaurant donating 15% of profits to END7 – a fun and delicious way to kick off NTD Awareness Week. Throughout the week, club members promoted their chapter’s brand-new Twitter account and used their own social media accounts to spread the word about NTDs, posting “unselfies” explaining their passion for the cause.

UT Dallas unselfie 2UT Dallas unselfie 1

Fellow Texans at Rice University in Houston also had a busy NTD Awareness Week, planning an event every single day to build a drumbeat about NTDs and END7 on campus!

Rice University NTD Week schedule

On Sunday, they handed out donuts to students in exchange for “likes” on their club’s Facebook page – a clever marketing strategy to spread the word about the rest of the week’s events! They continued this tasty approach with a candy giveaway at the library on Monday, and switched gears Tuesday by releasing a new awareness-raising video and entering students who shared it in a raffle. Wednesday saw more donuts and more Facebook likes, while things took a more academic turn Thursday with a journal club discussion for research-minded students interested in learning more about the Zika virus (fueled by bagels and coffee, of course).

Facebook Live screenshot

END7 at Rice officer Renisa Ramnath interviews Dr. Peter Hotez on Facebook Live.

END7 at Rice joined student groups around the world in hosting a viewing party for END7’s Facebook Live Q&A with Dr. Peter Hotez – tuning in to see one of their own club officers, Policy and Advocacy co-chair Renisa Ramnath, serve as one of the student interviewers! They worked off the pizza they enjoyed at the party at their final NTD Awareness Week event on Saturday: a “Ball for Life” basketball tournament! Teams of 3 competed to win tickets to a Houston Rockets NBA game and all proceeds from registration went to END7.

END7’s oldest student chapter at the University of Texas-Austin celebrated NTD Awareness Week with a NTD documentary watch party. They also hosted a successful “bagels and brochures” tabling event handing out free Panera treats and information about NTDs to passing students.

SMU Tropical NightFor the second year, END7’s dedicated Canadian student supporters at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax celebrated NTD Awareness Week with a Tropical Night fundraiser. This evening of tropical food, games and costumes is a great example of how fun fundraising can be while generating support for NTD treatment – in this case, over $700 worth!

END7 Campus Leaders Council member Deepshika Verma, working to launch an END7 chapter at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, got a publicity boost during NTD Awareness Week with a fantastic radio story about END7 produced by USC student Alana Bracken. As Deepshika put it on air, “END7 tries to shed light on these diseases because they’re just as important as the diseases we’re very well aware about” – a great summary of our goals for NTD Awareness Week!

Students at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in in Kumasi, Ghana and the University of Benin in Benin City, Nigeria joined the charge to raise awareness of NTDs by distributing educational materials, putting up END7 posters and hosting awareness events on campus as they strived to spread the word about their cause and recruit new members to their growing chapters.

Many students dove into advocacy during NTD Awareness Week, with students at the UTHealth campus in Brownsville, Texas writing five op-eds defending the value of U.S. investments in global health at this time of political change in the United States and abroad. END7 supporters at Duke University enrolled in a student-led “house course” on NTDs joined in with an op-ed writing competition using END7’s latest op-ed writing guide. END7 Student Advisory Board representative John Lu, a Duke junior spending the spring semester studying abroad at Oxford University in the UK, hosted a pizza party to introduce Oxford students to the END7 campaign by watching END7’s Facebook Live Q&A with Dr. Peter Hotez. Despite having just arrived on campus, John recruited 20 students to attend the event and explore opportunities to fight NTDs on campus!

The second annual NTD Awareness Week was a truly global celebration of the amazing progress that has been made in the fight against NTDs in the five years since the London Declaration on NTDs and the launch of the END7 campaign – and a reminder that advocacy, fundraising, and creative efforts to raise awareness are needed more than ever to reach our end goal of a world free from the suffering caused by NTDs. We are grateful that the END7 student community is leading the charge!