Category Archives: Obama Administration

To Helminth It – Let’s Go to 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 Cyrus Ghaznavi’s reflection on his experience in D.C.:

By Cyrus Ghaznavi, Rice University

Nearly a year after the first ever END7 Advocacy Day in April of 2015, I was back on a plane headed nonstop to Reagan National Airport. The second annual Advocacy Day was less than 24 hours away!

Over the past year, Rice University’s chapter of END7 has grown significantly. Our general membership and committees have expanded and awareness of our cause on campus has blossomed. We have hosted trivia nights, fundraisers, Super Smash Bros video game tournaments, petition drives, and much more. Consequently, what once started as a relatively obscure club on campus has now gained significant traction within the Rice community.

Bera office

Cyrus (far right) and his group meet with Representative Ami Bera of California on the second annual END7 Student Advocacy Day.

However, though we have worked extensively to advocate for NTDs “inside the hedges,” the Rice chapter of END7 strongly believes that official policy change is needed to successfully control and eliminate the seven most common NTDs. In fact, our mission states that “END7 at Rice is an organization that strives to raise awareness…for our mission with local and national policymakers.” And so, when I was faced with the question of whether or not to attend the second annual END7 Advocacy Day, it was a no-brainer.

The momentous day was kicked off by Senator Roger Wicker, co-chair of the Senate Caucus on Malaria and NTDs, who had invited the END7 group to morning coffee. After socializing and meeting our morning coffee quota, we took pictures with the Senator, who explained that NTDs are an issue very near and dear to his heart. After coffee, we were welcomed by Dr. Neeraj Mistry, Managing Director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases. We were then presented with informative presentations by representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development, RTI International, and Helen Keller International, before grabbing lunch in our small groups.

Last year, I had the pleasure of working with Kathryn McGrath, who works with END7 as a member of the Global Network staff, as the leader of my small group. Perhaps not coincidentally, she was my group’s leader again, so we immediately had a dynamic and strategy for how to pitch our case to the four House Representatives we would be meeting that day. Working with my teammates Antonia, also from Rice University, and Elaine, from the University of Texas at Dallas, we devised a division of labor as to which points we would each hit in our meetings with staff.

Kathryn started each meeting with a brief introduction to END7, after which Elaine jumped in by sharing some of USAID’s most persuasive statistics. One of every six people globally suffers from one of the seven most common NTDs. For every $1 invested into the program, $26 worth of donated pharmaceuticals are leveraged. For a mere $0.50, an at-risk individual can be treated and protected from the seven most common NTDs for a year. So far, 1.4 billion treatments have been distributed to almost 700 million individuals. Antonia would then shift gears and relay some of the more human, emotional aspects of the program and NTDs. She mentioned that children miss school and parents miss work when infected, reinforcing the cycle of poverty. She went over some of the disfiguring and debilitating symptoms of these seven diseases, and wrapped up by talking about the stigma associated with them. At this point, I pounced by synthesizing what those before me had mentioned. I asked if the Representative would support increasing USAID NTD funding by 25 percent instead of allowing it to be cut by 13.5 percent. Additionally, I implored the staffers to encourage their Representatives to join the Congressional Caucus on Malaria and NTDs, if they were not members already. “This is not the time to lose momentum – USAID funding is critical during this watershed time,” we would conclude.

We had four successful meetings with Representative staffers, and even got to meet one of the Representatives in person: Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), with whom we briefly chatted and took some pictures! He was a very unique case, given that he has an M.D. and can thus see NTDs from both a medical and political standpoint. As a pre-medical student studying both biology and policy, I felt that my interaction with Rep. Bera was particularly meaningful – especially since my group also visited his office during the 2015 END7 Student Advocacy Day!

At the end of the day, we all attended a reception where Barbara Bush, CEO and co-founder of Global Health Corps, and Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, spoke to the END7 advocates. Ms. Bush’s speech was truly moving and inspiring, urging us to global health action. Dr. Hotez recounted the beginnings of END7 and the USAID campaign, putting all of our advocacy into a unique, historical context.

And before I knew it, the day was over. As a group of nearly 50 students and leaders, we had spoken to almost 40 congressmen/women or their staff. Our pitches were not partisan, nor were they communicated out of self-interest: we were all passionate voices in the realm of NTDs, and we were all thrilled to be in the Capital.

Speaking for Rice, I cannot express how proud I am of the growth and commitment I have seen in just one year’s time. Last year, three students, including myself, attended this trip. This year, we had almost 20, comprising the large plurality of the advocates who attended (even compared to the schools in Washington)! I can only imagine how much more growth we will see in the coming years. Here’s to counting down to next year’s advocacy day!

Barbara Bush with student advocates from Rice University at the END7 Student Advocacy Day closing reception.

Barbara Bush with student advocates from Rice University at the END7 Student Advocacy Day closing reception.

Cyrus Ghaznavi is a junior at Rice University studying Biological Sciences & Policy Studies. He represents Rice on the END7 Campus Leaders Council and participated in the END7 Student Advocacy Day in 2015 and 2016.

END7 Student Leaders Speak Out on Capitol Hill for NTDs

Student Leaders on Capitol Hill

END7 student leaders on Capitol Hill

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.

Spotlighting NTDs Will Further Pres. Obama’s Goals for Africa Trip

After stopping in Gorée Island, Senegal, President Obama remarked, “I’m a firm believer that humanity is fundamentally good, but it’s only good when good people stand up for what’s right.”

While President Obama was referencing the need to strengthen and uphold human rights protections, his comment certainly applies to the urgent obligation to control and eliminate NTDs in Africa. With over 90% of the NTD burden occurring in this continent, Africans are deeply suffering from the debilitating health, social, and economic impact of these diseases – and remain stuck in extreme poverty as a result.

As the President continues his tour encouraging African nations to foster economic growth and empower youth, we urge him to acknowledge the essential link between treating NTDs and advancing prosperity. Here’s our “wish list” of points we’d like President Obama to address:

  • The U.S. is committed to reducing the impact of NTDs in Africa by supporting integrated treatment programs and offering technical assistance. USAID has already delivered hundreds of millions of treatments and will continue to invest in reducing the impact of the seven most common NTDs.
  • Adding deworming programs to all childhood nutrition efforts will strengthen food security and nutrition interventions. Removing worms will ensure that kids retain the nutrients required for proper physical and cognitive development.
  • As a leader on the continent, South Africa can play a major role in elevating NTDs as a priority health issue for the African region. Treating NTDs supports peaceful, healthy, and equal outcomes for society.

Tackling NTDs offers a concrete way to alleviate poverty, enhance food security and improve the lives of millions of Africans. Here’s to hoping that President Obama takes advantage of this monumental trip by giving these horrific diseases the attention they deserve.

What Does a Second Term for President Obama Mean for Neglected Tropical Diseases?

By Michelle K. Brooks, Policy Director, Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases   

As President Obama’s second term begins to take shape and new faces assume new leadership roles, many in Washington are trying to gauge what will happen to global health.  As recently highlighted in a blog posted by Heather Ignatius at PATH, President Obama began his first term with gusto as he rolled out his Global Health Initiative (GHI).  The initiative, which included specific goals for a variety of disease programs and overarching themes such as country ownership, empowerment of women and girls and health system strengthening, was met with great enthusiasm in the global health community and abroad.  However, funding became a major roadblock as Congress struggled with budgetary pressures and, at times, rightly (or wrongly) failed to see the benefit to a “whole of government approach.”

In his State of the Union address, President Obama addressed his commitment to serving the global community.

“In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades by connecting more people to the global economy; by empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve, and helping communities to feed, and power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation, which is within our reach.”

The President also discussed efforts to increase research and development funding by investing more in science and technology. These opportunities would not only decrease the unemployment rate but would exhibit our nation’s ability to serve the larger public through global health concerns.

As for Neglected Tropical Diseases…

The USAID NTD control program, which began in fiscal year (FY) 2006 under then President George W. Bush, initially benefitted under GHI.  The Obama Administration included NTDs in its list of goals and targets for GHI and dramatically increased its funding.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs): Reduce the prevalence of 7 NTDs by 50 percent among 70 percent of the affected population, contributing to: (1) the elimination of onchocerciasis in Latin America by 2016; (2) the elimination of lymphatic filariasis globally by 2020; and (3) the elimination of leprosy. (GHI Target)

Despite the gains made from the increased funds for NTD control and elimination – an increase in pharmaceutical companies’ drug donations, USAID expanding to 20 countries – the Administration unexpectedly cut the NTD program budget in its FY 2013 request.  The NTD community reacted and, Congress responded lauding the NTD Program’s success and approving  $125 million for the program in Senate Appropriations Committee…

So, where does that leave NTDs?  We think in good shape (despite sequestration)!  While not without some ups and downs, on the whole the Administration continues to support the principles behind NTD control and elimination, namely its cost-effectiveness, its proven success, its role in poverty reduction and its contribution to global health diplomacy.  And, we hope that as the Office of Global Health Diplomacy ramps up at the Department of State, that NTDs will remain on the President’s agenda.