By Lauren Seibert, World Vision ACT:S Advocacy and Campaigns Fellow
The ground has shifted on Capitol Hill. New members and new threats to funding mean that to keep our footing as effective advocates, we need to make some changes in our approach. So what are we asking malaria advocates to do this year?
First of all, we have a new body of Congress to take into account. “A big challenge this year is that a lot of the new Congress members are unaware of the issue,” says Craig Jaggers, World Vision’s senior policy advisor on malaria. “We lost some of our champions, such as Russ Feingold in the Senate. The reality is, there are 96 new members in the House and 16 in the Senate, and many of them may be unfamiliar with our work on malaria.”
For our first advocacy action, we need to take a step back and focus on re-educating members of Congress about malaria: what this disease is, why we care, and why they should care. We need to spend more time this year writing letters, making phone calls, and setting up meetings at the district level to talk about the importance of the issue. We must continue to remind the government that malaria is still one of the deadliest diseases on the planet, especially in Africa.
We must highlight the progress that has been made in reducing the number of malaria deaths. With the increased funding for malaria in the past few years, we have been able to distribute thousands of bed nets, administer treatment, and educate hundreds of communities about the disease. Due to these efforts, an additional 485 children have been saved from malaria every day over the past decade.
There are few places in the U.S. federal budget where dollars translate so directly into lives saved. U.S. initiatives to fight malaria could be considered some of the most cost-effective programs we have.
However, as Congress attempts to balance the federal budget, disproportionately large cuts target U.S. humanitarian assistance programs, such as those dealing with malaria. The proposed cuts would take a 10 percent bite from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and $450 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. This would mean that approximately 10.4 million mosquito nets will not be provided and 6 million treatments for malaria will not be administered, which will have a devastating impact on malaria-endemic communities.
“So much is changing in this current budget environment,” says Jaggers. “What happens today could change tomorrow, and that’s why it’s so important for you right now to reach out to your member of Congress and let them know that you care about this issue and want to see it funded.”
In raising our voices for malaria, we’ve made incredible progress and saved many lives. But now that many children and families have been protected from ever contracting malaria in the first place, they also have never developed a resistance to the disease. If we cut back our efforts and these people become exposed to malaria, they are more likely to face serious illness or death.
“Here’s the opportunity to move forward and stamp out deaths from a disease that’s been with us since basically the beginning of time,” says Jaggers. “It’s within our reach, and it would be a shame to make so much progress only to lose sight of that, and have it come roaring back again.”