Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Supporting Mothers & Children’s Lives Around the World

By Ann Beltran

It’s lovely to have a day that honors us as mothers. And, if you ask me what it should be about, it shouldn’t be limited to honoring us by giving us a day off or a bouquet of flowers. I’d like it to be about the values that moms manifest every day in terms of nurturing the young. Indeed, I wish we had a whole week to shine a light on what mothers want not for only their own, but for all: A healthy, bright future for millions of mothers and children worldwide, a world where every baby receives the same healthy start to life no matter where they are born.

Childhood can be fragile. From Malawi to Falls Church, the birth of a child can be the most hopeful day of a parent’s life. Yet for too many, that hope is cut short: each year 6.3 million children still die of mainly preventable and treatable causes before they reach their fifth birthday. Nearly one-half of those deaths are related to malnutrition. Sad to say, this is the good news, as this is down from 12.6 million under-five deaths annually in 1990.

But the U.S. can be proud of its efforts. The United States has long been a leader in helping moms and babies survive and thrive, partnering with developing countries to support vaccines, quality nutrition, access to skilled birth attendants and emergency obstetric care, training for community health workers, life-saving health commodities, and research and development of new life-saving tools. In the 24 countries where U.S. involvement has been the greatest, maternal mortality has declined an average of 5 percent each year, faster than the global average. These accomplishments and the great need remaining have been addressed well by a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives and Senators – including our own Senators Kaine and Warner and Representative Beyer – who have recently supported continued funding for our nation’s commitment to Maternal Child Health and Nutrition programs around the world – a part of the total 1 percent we invest in international development assistance.

While great strides have been made to increase maternal, newborn and child health, much work needs to be done. Every day, approximately 800 women, almost entirely from developing countries, will die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Every day, 17,000 children under five years old will die of preventable and treatable conditions such as prematurity, pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria, with malnutrition being the underlying cause in 45 percent of those deaths. Newborn deaths are a growing proportion of child mortality: 44 percent of all deaths in children under five happen during the first 28 days of life. Moreover, when a mother dies, her children are less likely to go to school, get immunized, have access to good nutrition, and they are up to ten times more likely to die in childhood than children with mothers.

In 2000, the U.S. committed to working with our UN partners to reduce child mortality by two-thirds in 2015. Recently, the UN Children’s Fund reported that without increased attention, we will not meet our child survival goal until 2028, 13 years after the deadline. Missing this goal means 35 million children will die who would otherwise have lived.

There is more we can do to make our funding more effective. A high-level review by a panel of business and development leaders concluded that we will not meet our goals without first addressing underlying bureaucratic challenges. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), our main global development agency, is already implementing some of the panel’s proposed reforms. But this alone will not be enough. New, bipartisan legislation will hold USAID accountable for a smarter, more effective approach to ending preventable maternal and child deaths. Requiring a centralized and coherent strategy, the bill will maximize our investments, with returns measured in lives saved and healthy, prosperous communities.

This bill is something all of us, mothers and fathers, Republicans and Democrats, can get behind. It’s the kind of bill we can expect to see our Members of Congress support. Senators Kaine and Warner, Representative Beyer, want to wish us a Happy Mother’s Day? Then support maternal and child health legislation to support mothers and children’s lives around the world.

That is what mothers really want.