Earlier this week, I took my daughters—Cleo, who is 4 years old, and Lily, who is 18 months—to Capitol Hill to meet with US senators. Although they enjoyed running up and down the sidewalk and long hallways (my girls, not the senators), we weren’t there just for fun.
We were part of a group of mothers and children who stormed the Hill to deliver “paper doll petitions” encouraging US policymakers to support an important new piece of legislation aimed at saving the lives of women and children around the world.
The Reach Every Mother and Child Act is a bold, bipartisan policy initiative introduced last week by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Chris Coons (D-DE), two of the most committed champions for global health and development issues in Congress. This legislation would accelerate progress toward the global goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths by 2035 by ensuring a more efficient and coordinated US government response.
There’s never been so much momentum to save the lives of women and children around the globe. Deaths of mothers and of children under age 5 have been nearly cut in half since 1990, and mortality rates are declining faster than they ever have before. In 2014, the United States made a commitment to take even more aggressive action to save 15 million children’s lives and 600,000 women’s lives by 2020.
Wouldn’t that be amazing? But commitments are only followed through when people come together and take action. The US government has long been a leader in maternal and child survival, and it has contributed greatly to the gains we’ve achieved in the past two decades. But we could have an even greater impact with a more coordinated approach.
What’s at stake
Despite great progress, 17,000 children under 5 die every day—most from preventable and treatable causes such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria. An average of 60 children will die in the five minutes you spend reading this blog. Tragically, each year about 1 million newborns die on their very first day of life. On top of that, nearly 300,000 women die annually during pregnancy or childbirth—an experience that should be filled with nothing but joy. As a mother and a global health advocate, I believe these numbers are unacceptable.
My work at PATH allows me to talk with US policymakers about the urgency and vision for ending avoidable maternal and child deaths. I want to make sure that last year’s commitment is not just an empty promise. In order for our vision to become a reality, we need sustained commitment from our lawmakers over decades. We need policies that are based on the best science and that lay out bold targets for saving lives. We need our agencies to be working in lockstep so our programs can achieve the greatest impact. And we need to make every dollar count. (And while we are at it, we need more dollars!)
Scaling up what works; innovating for the future
The good news? We have a number of tools that work to save lives. Low-cost, high-impact interventions such as bednets to stop malaria, routine immunization, family planning, and training of health care workers can drastically improve the chances of survival. The Reach Act would help these solutions reach more women and children.
Additionally, the legislation calls for the development and deployment of new tools and approaches. We know that innovations such as new drug formulations to treat severe bleeding during childbirth, devices for newborns who need help breathing at birth, and mobile apps and technologies can help us reach many more moms and kids and save lives.
The Reach Act calls on the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to scale up currently available and future tools and services to achieve ambitious targets for lives saved, focusing its efforts on the poorest and most vulnerable populations. It also encourages better coordination across US agencies with foreign governments and international organizations. And it makes the recently established position of a USAID Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator required by law, ensuring that under future administrations there will be a dedicated individual responsible for oversight and coordination of programs and resources. Importantly, it also addresses financing by giving USAID new authorities to create and test new, innovative public-private financing mechanisms to complement strong bilateral US investments.
Getting to the finish line
Introduction of the bill is just a first step, and the legislative process can be slow. As advocates, we will be undertaking a sustained effort to move this bill forward. And you can join us!
- Join the conversations online at #SaveMomsAndKids.
- Be part of our virtual chain by posting your photo and a message about why you believe we should #SaveMomsandKids (details on the DefeatDD blog).
We have an unprecedented opportunity to reach an ambitious—but real and achievable—goal of ending preventable maternal, newborn, and child deaths. I hope when my daughters grow up, this will be the reality they know.
- Heather Ignatius is a senior advocacy and policy officer with the Advocacy and Public Policy Program at PATH.