Bringing Washington to Kuala Lumpur

by Crystal Lander and Brigid Boettler

(Photos by MSH/Brigid Boettler, CARE/Ben Weingrod, and MSH/Rachel Hassinger)

For seven days last month, Management Sciences for Health was proud to host six Congressional staffers as they participated in a study tour to Malaysia—to learn about how the country has made major global health investments and how those investments have saved the lives of women and families.

The staffers—Adriane Casalotti, Legislative Director (Rep. Lois Capps, D-CA), John Ariale, Chief of Staff (Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-FL), Maggie Dougherty, Legislative Aide (Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL), Aaron Allen, Legislative Assistant (Rep. Juan Vargas, D-CA), Kelli Ripp, Legislative Aide (Rep. Aaron Schock, R-IL), and Melinda Cep, Policy Advisor (Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT)—took part in 17 different educational briefings, networking receptions, dinner panels and meetings.

Staffers met with over 50 technical, political, advocacy, and global health experts and heard personal stories from mothers, patients, and global health advocates from around the world. A noted highlight of the tour included a meeting with US actor/singer/humanitarian Mandy Moore, who described firsthand the benefits of malaria bednet distribution projects in Central Africa.

An added benefit of  this informational tour of Malaysia was the staffers’ opportunity to attend the 3rd Women Deliver Conference, this decade’s largest event on maternal health and women’s rights. Along with over 4,500 attendees from around the world, the US staffers were able to attend sessions of their interest.

Thanks to the Ministry of Health of Malaysia and the Negeri Sembilan Family Planning Association (the leading voluntary family planning, sexual and reproductive health organization in Malaysia), the study tour included visits to Putrajaya, the small town of Seremban, and the historic city of Melaka to visit government and NGO reproductive health clinics and youth centers. During a tour of the Negeri Sembilan Family Planning Association, the staffers joined a group of neighborhood youth to identify important “social ills” that children and adolescents face in Malaysia. All of these site visits served as vivid demonstrations of the benefits of Malaysia’s investment in maternal and child health.

As the study tour came to a close, the staffers found themselves informed, inspired, and better able to understand the cross-cutting investment that is maternal health and women’s rights.

“Just think of all the good that could come from advocating for ensuring that women and girls have the right to access maternal and reproductive healthcare … women’s rights and access to maternal and reproductive healthcare must be a highlight of our global development agenda,” John Ariale blogged during the tour. “The issue is too important to ignore, or be mired in obtuse political innuendo. With the right focus and attention we can ensure that sexual and reproductive health is readily available and sustainable for all women.”

Learn more about the Congressional Study Tour

Crystal Lander is the director of policy and advocacy, and Brigid Boettler the outreach and events specialist, at MSH.

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