By Beth Ann Saracco
It’s a fact you’ve probably heard before, but the scandal of it still rings loudly: 17,000 children die each day from causes that are entirely preventable and treatable – conditions such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria. What’s more, malnutrition – something we can also prevent with a solid diet – accounts for almost half – 45 percent – of deaths among children under the age of 5. This equals three million children’s lives lost each year.
As much as we at Bread for the World ask activists to urge Congress to take action against hunger, recently Congress has taken a first step toward preventing these child deaths, and Bread applauds this move. On July 30, the Reach Every Mother and Child Act (S. 1911) was introduced. It is bipartisan legislation that will help to end preventable maternal, newborn, and child deaths. The act was introduced by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). If passed, it will provide low-cost, high-impact measures that have been proven to prevent the deaths of mothers and children in the most vulnerable, poorest countries.
The act would enable the U.S. government and its partners to save the lives of an additional 15 million children and 600,000 women by 2020. We’ve proven already that we can do it. Since 1990, nearly 100 million children around the world have been saved, and the deaths of mothers worldwide have been nearly cut in half. These accomplishments are some of the best success stories in international development. But we can actually get the number of preventable maternal and child deaths down to zero.
In 2012, together with 175 countries and 400 nonprofit organizations, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a bold new goal to end preventable child and maternal deaths by 2035. But to reach this goal, Congress must pass the Reach Every Mother and Child Act.
Specifically, this act would:
- Coordinate a U.S. government strategy to end preventable maternal, newborn, and child deaths by 2035
- Require ambitious targets to be set, tracked, and annually reported on
- Focus on the poorest and most vulnerable populations, recognizing the unique needs within different countries and communities
- Improve coordination among the U.S. government agencies and relevant foreign governments, international organizations, and civil society
- Complement strong U.S. bilateral investments with innovative, public-private financing mechanisms
- Accelerate partner countries’ progress toward self-sustainability for maternal, newborn, and child health.
This legislation would also ensure fewer children experience the harmful and life-threatening effects of malnutrition, especially during the critical 1,000-day window from pregnancy to age 2.
Bread for the World is committed to ending hunger by 2030, and this act would be one step toward that goal.
Beth Ann Saracco is a senior international policy analyst at Bread for the World.
Photo: Underinvesting in the health of girls and women contributes to child mortality and intergenerational cycles of poor health and poverty. Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for World