A Veteran Advocate Reflects on the 2016 RESULTS International Conference

July 10, 2016
by Mark Coats, RESULTS Austin

Wow!  What an incredible RESULTS conference this year. The conference was three days packed with speakers, workshops, and fellowship. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, shared about his cutting-edge work pioneering AIDS treatment for the poorest people in world. I learned new stories and skills. I heard of the shift in health focus to the ultra-poor and the emphasis on equity, not simply equality.

The conference was especially meaningful because of Loyce Maturu from Zimbabwe.  I got to meet Loyce and learn her story. In 2002, at the age of ten, her mother and brother died the same week, both sick with AIDS and tuberculosis. Loyce went to live with her aunt. Two years later she became sick and was diagnosed with AIDS and tuberculosis herself.

Fortunately, Loyce was able to begin treatment because, by this time, anti-retroviral and tuberculosis drugs were available due to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

However the stigma of AIDS is very powerful and Loyce’s aunt threw her out. She went to live with her uncle, but he was abusive, both physically and emotionally. In desperation, Loyce took all of her meds in one day, trying to escape the pain.  After two nights in the hospital, without any visits from friends or family, Loyce began a long road back with the support of adolescent AIDS peer counselors.

Today Loyce is a sparkling and accomplished 24-year-old, an AIDS counselor herself, and now an advocate and spokesperson for people with AIDS and TB.

It gave me chills to think that back when she fell sick with AIDS, I was in Washington, DC, advocating for funding to launch the Global Fund. That enabled her to get the treatment and counseling she needed to survive.  She would not be alive today without the collective efforts of supporters of the Global Fund.

During the International Conference, I ended up going to ten different congressional offices to advocate on our issues. We focused on the Reach Every Mother and Child Act and on building more support for the Global Fund. Although we won’t know until later how successful we will be, we’re patient and we won’t quit.

Donor countries will convene in Montreal in early September to pledge their commitments to the Global Fund for the next three years, 2017-2019. The Fund seeks $13 billion to continue their work. We hope President Obama will continue US leadership with a pledge for 1/3 of the $13 billion. We scurried around Capitol Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday, asking members of Congress to support this level, maintaining what we’ve done the last three years.

The Global Fund has saved 17 million lives since 2002 and is on track to save 22 million all together by the end of 2016. Do these big numbers just make your eyes glaze over? Me too! But visualize this: 22 million people would fill the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium 200 times over. Or imagine roughly three out of every four Texans dying! Meeting Loyce Maturu, a survivor, helps make it real to me.

You may be glad to hear that, as of the International Conference, the Reach Every Mother and Child Act had garnered 158 co-sponsors, including 56 Republicans. This puts it in the top one percent of bills right now. As a Texan, I know that, in two decades of lobbying on hunger, no one in Texas RESULTS has ever had a real meeting with any U.S. Senator from our state. We meet with staff, but a chance encounter has been our only opportunity to be in touch with a senator personally.

That’s why I was delighted to spot Senator John Cornyn when I boarded my Southwest Airlines flight home from the International Conference. As I was making my way to the back of the plane, I saw him seated in the emergency exit row. He realized I recognized him and quickly closed his eyes, feigning sleep. Respecting his privacy, I did not disturb him right then. But an hour later, 35,000 feet somewhere over Tennessee, I made my way back up the aisle and handed him a letter I’d just written asking him to sign a congressional letter urging President Obama to support the Global Fund!

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