The year-old Student Coalition for Humanitarian Support is launching a letter-writing campaign this week in the hopes of garnering increased support to fight the global AIDS crisis.
The group, which has already collected about 400 letters to U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Christopher Dodd, is asking Congress to allocate $2.5 billion of the fiscal year 2003 budget to the United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Michael Bernstein ’04, the coordinator of the coalition, said the group’s grass-roots lobbying is an essential part of a nationwide effort.
“Normal citizens and non-governmental organizations like the Global Health Council and Physicians for Human Rights, all sorts of advocacy groups, are trying to get more funding for global AIDS initiatives,” Bernstein said. “That’s one of the ways that we are fitting in to this larger effort — by helping to build the grass roots necessary to enact change.”
Currently President George W. Bush’s proposed budget earmarks $400 million for the Global Fund, an amount that would double last year’s contribution.
The coalition is encouraging students to write letters to Dodd and DeLauro urging them to support the even larger increase in spending. Members of the group said the 1,150 percent increase they are asking for is appropriate given America’s share of the global economy and role as the richest nation on earth.
A representative from Dodd’s office declined to comment, and DeLauro’s office could not be reached for comment.
Though the Student Coalition for Humanitarian Support currently is focusing on the letter-writing campaign, it also works on other projects.
Bernstein said the group is concerned with improving the overall quality of world population health, and the group’s broad focus is fundamental to the overall success of the coalition.
“Sometimes the message gets lost when you’re advocating for one specific issue,” Bernstein said. “Congressmen don’t see the impetus to increase the overall portion of the pie, but instead change the divisions of the pie, and that’s not what we want.”
The coalition already has contacts in organizations on other campuses, including the Student Global AIDS Campaign at Harvard. Janet Kim ’03 said efforts are being made to expand to the campuses of Stanford and Emory universities, among others.
But for now the group is focusing on the global AIDS fight, where Connecticut’s congressmen have been big players.
Dodd is a senior member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, a committee that evaluates legislation regarding AIDS.
And in 1999 DeLauro joined with then-Vice President Al Gore to announce a $100 million initiative that doubled efforts to battle AIDS in Africa.
“Addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic must be a central part of our foreign policy now and in the next century,” DeLauro said in a press release at the time. “We cannot expect to make progress on economic development in Africa unless our policies sufficiently address the catastrophe of AIDS.”
The Student Coalition for Humanitarian Support has received about 400 letters in several days’ time, and Bernstein said the group plans to present the letters to the congressmen in scheduled meetings with them in the next several weeks.
Kim said that sometimes it is frustrating to deal with the complex issue of world health.
“It does get frustrating not to see the fruits of your labor, but I figure it only takes five minutes to stop and realize how lucky we are [in this country] and that our help is needed elsewhere,” Kim said.