A call to action for students and U.S. Government

As normalcy vanishes with stay-at-home orders and a global economic shutdown, students struggle to continue extracurricular activities whilst balancing school work and family responsibilities. However, even though most activities have been put on standby, students are now in an unprecedented position to work as activists and create meaningful change from home.

Our senators and representatives are finally listening to the nation’s cries against healthcare inequity and corporate outsourcing as we face unseen supply shortages. Students, a target voter base for future congressional elections, are being heard louder than ever. While we can’t take to the streets with picket signs anymore, our phone calls and emails have a new level of impact.

For those who firmly believe that access to healthcare is a right, not a privilege, now is the time to advocate for expanding healthcare. Despite our nation’s partisanship divide, there is little doubt that barriers to access to primary care across the globe contributed to the current health crisis.

While the United States works on fixing healthcare at home, congress has a way to increase foreign health assistance without actually increasing the overall foreign aid budget. The move could minimize the COVID-19 cases that are bound to come in the winter without overburdening the U.S. budget. Communicable illnesses know no borders, so global unity and assistance are critical during this pandemic.

Currently, humanitarian aid given by the U.S. to other countries is earmarked specifically for sectors like food, but not for health. Thus, even when humanitarian aid increases following natural disasters or a crisis abroad, health assistance may not. But for countries struggling under the weight of political turmoil and a novel pandemic, such aid is direly needed.

Under the Maduro regime in Venezuela, there was a 65 percent rise in maternal mortality between 2015-2016, and 90 percent of hospitals reported shortfalls in medicine, supplies or electricity in 2018. On the other side of the globe in Yemen, years of war have already ravaged healthcare systems. 80 percent of Yemen’s population is reliant on humanitarian aid to survive. Our help could prepare these nations for later COVID-19 resurgences and prevent new domestic cases too, once the U.S. reopens.

So, to help fix such health injustices, we as students can demand from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) that congress allocates at least 20 percent of the “International Disaster Assistance” account and “Migration and Refugee Assistance” account of the foreign assistance budget specifically for primary care programs in recipient countries via email or a phone call.

Congress is revising the foreign operations budget legislation soon, and our very own Florida senator is on the Senate Appropriations Committee for the Department of State and Foreign Operations. By reaching out to Rubio and asking that 20 percent of each of these accounts go towards bettering primary care in countries in need, students can work towards a future free of the fear of uncontained public health crises.

Leena Yumeen is a freshman majoring in biochemistry.