Kids for World Health Lobbies Congresswoman Lowey

Eliminating Chagas Disease is the Goal

by Judy Silberstein

(May 15, 2008) Congresswoman Nita Lowey, a member of the House Health Appropriations Committee, was at Mamaroneck High School on May 2 at the invitation of Kids for World Health, which is lobbying to gain support for programs to eliminate Chagas disease worldwide. Chagas disease is caused by a parasite and can lead to chronic cardiac or intestinal complications.

The meeting was an opportunity for the KFWH founders and the congresswoman to share their mutual concerns about health issues that impact millions of people around the world. Representing KFWH were many of the students who founded the organization in 2003 when they were third graders in Kay Kobbe’s class at Chatsworth School. Will Jacobs, Graham Crawford, Sarah Comerford, Anetta Urmey, Emily Wharton, Cory McCrum, Jake Feinman, and Meghan Marr were there along with Ms. Kobbe and two other KFWH board members, Betty Comerford and Tammy Urmey.

Nita Lowey & Kids for World Health
Congresswoman Nita Lowey (seated at right) met with Kids for World Health in Mamaroneck.

The students asked Congresswoman Lowey for her support of a new program being proposed by one of their mentors, Dr. Jean Jannin, coordinator for neglected tropical diseases at the World Health Organization. Dr. Jannin is soliciting aid from non-endemic countries to eliminate Chagas disease by the year 2010.

The students gave a history of Chagas disease and described the thousands of deaths that occur from lack of diagnosis and treatment each year. Jake Feinman reported that Chagas is "entering the United States daily through blood transfusions and organ transplants." Experts estimate there may be more than 100,000 people living legally or illegally in the USA having acquired infections as children in Latin America, some of whom will be blood and organ donors or who will pass the disease to a fetus. During the 1980s, an estimated 25 million people were infected, but control programs have had impressive results.

After their presentation, the students asked Congresswoman Lowey for her help in getting a resolution on eliminating Chagas proposed at the 2009 meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. Political endorsement among major non-endemic countries is considered crucial to the success of the proposal and its eventual funding.

The KFWH founders did not have to convince Congresswoman Lowey of the seriousness of such a disease. She discussed her efforts on neglected diseases such as AIDS, which she has an opportunity to impact in her role as a member of influential committees, including the House Appropriations Committee and the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee.

In response to the student’s advocacy, she said she would look into Chagas and the proposal. She said she would do this "because you students brought this initiative to me," and that she is on the appropriate committees to best serve their requests.

Early Support of Kids For World Health

Congresswoman Lowey became an early supporter of the fledgling not-for-profit organization in 2003 when the KFWH founding students first met her in New Rochelle at the Doctors Without Borders exposition for their Access to Essential Medicines Campaign. At that point, the students were only 9 years old.

Since then, the students have initiated a number of projects to support their double mission of raising awareness and raising funds to combat neglected diseases. They began with a focus on trypanosomiasis or “sleeping sickness” and have since expanded their mission to include Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease, and leishmaniasis or kala azar.

The original group has encouraged the formation of similar chapters in other states and countries. Thanks to the efforts of students in chapters from New York, New Jersey, Illinois, France, and Nigeria, Kids for World Health has constructed and supported pediatric wards in Yei, Sudan; Kaliau, Tanzania; Chad, Sudan; Duk County, Sudan; and is developing a program with Dr. Joao Carlos Pinto Dias in Brazil for the treatment of Chagas disease.

The Mamaroneck chapter continues to meet to set and monitor policy for the organization and to vote on KFWH actions to combat neglected diseases. Ms. Kobbe noted, “Although they are now standing taller at the age of 16, their voices continue to be powerfully ageless.”

Want to Help?

To learn what you can do to support students in Larchmont and their KFWH mission, contact them at (914) 315-6007 or mail donations to Kids for World Health at PO Box 557, Larchmont, NY, 10538. KFWH will be sponsoring a walkathon for local families and supporters on October 18th.