Philly-area contingent helps advance health initiatives in Africa

     Children in the village of Nyumbani are pictured in a 2012 photo (Ben Curtis/AP Photo)

    Children in the village of Nyumbani are pictured in a 2012 photo (Ben Curtis/AP Photo)

    Volunteers from the Philadelphia region are in Washington this week to learn new lobbying skills and other ways to support health missions in sub-Saharan Africa.

    The ONE campaign, which works to fight extreme poverty around the world, is sponsoring the four-day training and advocate-education summit.

    There’s a long list of talking points for the volunteers to learn.

    Erin Hohlfelder, ONE’s Global Health Policy Director, said it’s especially important to spread the word about two new vaccines to fight pneumonia and diarrhea.

    Worldwide, those conditions are the biggest killers of poor children younger than 5. They take more lives than TB, AIDS and malaria combined, Hohlfelder said.

    Richer donor countries, including the United States, are already supporting the vaccine roll-out. And poorer countries, such as Ghana, have also made a financial pledge to make the vaccines an everyday part of their national health care system.

    “With every new year, there are hundreds of thousands of new babies being born who need those vaccines, it’s important that it’s a sustainable effort,” Hohlfelder said.

    At the summit, the volunteers will learn new ways to lobby their lawmakers.

    “Oftentimes they say, ‘Well, I care about this issue personally, I’m with you, but I don’t think my constituents care — I’m in an election year — and if I voted for these issues, my constituents wouldn’t be happy,'” Hohlfelder said.

    The advocates will also learn to debunk some persistent myths about the extent of U.S. aid around the world.

    “If you poll most people, they think we spend 10, 15, 20 percent of our national budget on foreign assistance when really it’s less than 1 percent,” Hohlfelder said.

    Major financial support for ONE comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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