Founders of Kids for World Health To Visit First Lady

by Kay Kobbe

(November 15, 2007) Founders of Kids for World Health, a not-for-profit grassroots organization begun in 2001 by Chatsworth School students when they were in the third grade, will be visiting the White House on Monday, November 19. The group’s mission is to raise awareness of the world’s most neglected diseases and to help in the effort to eliminate them. When one of the students, Sarah Comerford, wrote to the First Lady about Kids for World Health, the result was an invitation to a private meeting for the founders with Laura Bush.

Those going to Washington along with Sarah are Graham Crawford, Ryan Gerspach, Sam Gruppo, Will Jacobs, Meghan Marr, Cory McCrum, Peter Stoll, Eric Strumwasser, Emily Wharton and Anetta Urmey.

The purpose of the visit will be for the students, now in tenth grade, to explain the organization’s mission and recent accomplishments. They expect to draw dialogue from the First Lady’s recent African trips in support of the Emergency Program for AIDS Relief and her commitment to health care and nutrition programs. The KFWH founders have also been invited to aid in the unveiling of a new coin.

The White House is only one stop on the KFWH Washington trip. From there they will journey to the GAVI Alliance, a group focused on improving child health in the poorest countries, to share information on saving children’s lives through the use of vaccines. Later they will be at Georgetown University with Professor Hurley, a journalist and expert on neglected diseases.

The founders will also be traveling to Capital Hill, where on previous trips they met with Senator Hillary Clinton and Congresswoman Nita Lowey. This time they will update Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s chief of staff, Cathy Hurwit, on progress achieved since their last meeting with the congresswoman in 2004.

There will be much to report.

Originally, KFWH efforts were focused on sleeping sickness, but recently, the Founders Policy Board voted to widen their mission to include other diseases in need of public attention. They include Buruli Ulcer, Leishmaniasis, and Chagas disease, which have all been targeted by the World Health Organization under the direction of Dr. Jean Jannin, a mentor, friend, and member of the KFWH Advisory Board. KFWH is now supporting the new Chagas Initiative Network for countries where the disease is endemic, including the United States, Japan, Australia, and countries in Europe. The intent is to eliminate Chagas worldwide by the year 2010.

The Kids for World Health membership has grown beyond Larchmont; there are now 13 chapters, including ones in New York, New Jersey and Illinois, and others in France, Nigeria, and Senegal. Along with expansion of membership, education and fund-raising have been the main aims of the organization.

Chapter fundraising has begun to make significant contributions. Recently, a KFWH pediatric wing was built in Yei, Sudan, servicing 90 villages. In addition, the funds paid for a kitchen for patients, a lab and its equipment, diagnostic training for doctors, and educational materials for villagers. Funds raised at a recent event with “Lost Boy” John Bul Dau enabled KFWH to provide a new, fully equipped pediatric treatment room within a new clinic in Mr. Bul Dau’s village. (See: "Lost Boy of Sudan" at Hommocks Receives Check for Clinic.) The most recent project is for Kaliua, Tanzania, where a pediatric ward will be established for young patients suffering from sleeping sickness.

Following the Washington trip, the KFWH students will be back in Larchmont continuing work on their goals for the 2007-2008 school year. These include new efforts in Chad and Sudan and a new initiative to help patients suffering from Chagas disease in Brazil through treatments and the provision of pacemakers.

Until she retired last year, Kay Kobbe was a teacher at Chatsworth Avenue School. It was in her third grade class that Kids for World Health was founded, and she has continued her involvement with the organization. Donations can be sent to: Kids for World Health; PO Box 557; Larchmont, New York 10538