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National Conventions and International Issues: The DNC Provides Great Opportunity to Promote Global Health

Women’s reproductive health rights are a heated topic in the United States (US) this election year. I had the opportunity to attend an advocacy event focused on reproductive rights and access at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) last week. What may have been an anomaly was its focus on women and girls not only in the US but also around the world.

The United Nations (UN) Foundation invited IntraHealth to attend this advocacy event, so I took the short train ride from Durham to Charlotte, North Carolina to participate. The event, also co-sponsored by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, focused on the vital role of women’s health in foreign policy. This particular gathering was one of literally thousands of private affairs organized throughout downtown Charlotte designed to influence the political agenda during the DNC.

Actress and Planned Parenthood Board Member Aisha Tyler moderated a spirited discussion with Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D., Illinois) and Yvette Clarke (D., NY); Kathy Calvin, CEO of the UN Foundation; and Latyana Mapp Frett, the vice president of Planned Parenthood Global. The level of discourse stayed at passionate rhetoric: The US is and must remain the leader in family planning assistance! Women must be fiercer, stronger, and louder! We must support and vote for politicians who stand by women and women’s issues.

What pleasantly surprised me was the large, diverse, and enthusiastic audience—made up of party faithfuls, pro-choice advocates, lobbyists, political staffers, and press representatives. As a global health practitioner, I was in the minority and intrigued by why the different delegates chose this event over the many competing convention activities. It is clear from the conversations I had that grassroots advocacy campaigns designed to build public support for global reproductive health are gaining traction. 

For example, I met two North Carolina women representing Mom Congress, a national advocacy network of women who effect positive change in education. I was impressed by these women working at the local level in education and the fact that they were attending a global health event. I learned that the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life campaign had recently reached out to their network to educate them about childhood immunization in developing countries. They were sold. They were moved and mobilized as Americans to contribute to helping families around the world facing similar life challenges.

I came away truly inspired. I was encouraged by the level of commitment to a robust global family planning program on the part of our US Congresswomen and the convention delegates. But I also was inspired by the effective role the UN Foundation plays in informing, mobilizing, and activating Americans across the country about critical health and development challenges. Whether it is Shot@Life, Girl Up (a successful campaign to get US middle and high school girls engaged in empowering girls around the world), or A Better World (a campaign to connect everyday Americans and policy-makers with the work of the UN), the UN Foundation is rapidly expanding the number of Americans who care about the global community and who can see how their actions can make a meaningful difference.

As I rode the train home Wednesday evening, I reflected on IntraHealth’s own efforts to expand the number of Americans committed to taking action for our mission of championing the role of the health worker in saving lives. We, too, are gaining traction, although it remains challenging amid the barrage of media messaging out there to distill complex programmatic issues into straightforward and compelling messages. We want to inspire and motivate individuals to care and to act. 

As the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2012 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health demonstrates, the US public does see improving health in developing countries as one of many priorities that the US president and Congress should address in global affairs. Unfortunately, since 2010, fewer members of the public are saying they get enough information about US involvement in global health issues. More than half of the public does, however, express interest in the news media spending more time on coverage of global health. The report also shows that the more informed the public is about global health issues, and how US foreign assistance is saving lives, the more likely they are to support increased funding for health beyond this country’s borders1.

Informed and activated Americans are a driving force for change, and the DNC advocacy event was a great reminder that despite the hyper focus on domestic issues during this campaign, people can and do care about global issues.

1. 2012 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health, May 2012.