One of the world’s great accomplishments over the last generation is the dramatic reduction in child mortality, which has fallen by more than half since 1990.
Still, an estimated 6 million children die every year — around 16,000 a day — mostly for reasons that are preventable.
A bipartisan proposal in Congress, backed by Democrats and Republicans from Washington state, seeks to continue this progress, with the goal of ending all preventable childhood and maternal deaths.
The proposed Reach Every Mother and Child Act calls for doing this with new approaches, better coordination, and more reporting and tracking of progress by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the lead federal agency on humanitarian assistance.A U.S. Senate version calls for ending preventable childhood and maternal deaths by 2035; a U.S. House version calls for doing so “within a generation.”
Costs would be minimal — it’s a request for organizational change, not funding.
Supporters include global-health organizations clustered in the Puget Sound region, such as PATH and World Vision, which use similar results-oriented, data-intensive methods in their Seattle-style philanthropy.
New approaches at the federal level are needed because the task is getting harder abroad. Remaining places with high levels of childhood and maternal deaths include hard-to-reach areas such as South Sudan, Syria and Northern Iraq.
“It is the poorest of the poor, the most marginalized, that are continuing to die from preventable causes. If we continue to do more of the same, we can’t reach our target,” said David Fleming, vice president of public health at PATH.
Yet many of the needed fixes are simple steps, such as convincing mothers in Northern India that their tradition of separating from newborns is risky and that holding their babies close would reduce the chances of dying from hypothermia. Or educating mothers on the importance of early breast-feeding, which provides nutrients and reduces deaths caused by infants drinking contaminated water instead.
Maternal health has sadly been a hot-button issue in Congress recently, but the act has the support of Christian group World Vision and Republicans. U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, who sponsored the House version, expects it to bypass such controversies.
“Look across our country and globe — a lot of kids and families who aren’t getting a fair start in life,” Reichert said. “Part of that’s due to not getting the proper health care — simple things like the investments that we’re proposing, teaching health-care workers and midwives the importance of good hygiene, washing hands, sterilizing tools, access to lifesaving vaccines.”
Improving ways the U.S. brings knowledge and aid to the neediest parts of the world where it can save millions of children, with little to no additional funds, is a good idea. The Reach Every Mother and Child Act should be supported and quickly approved by the rest of Washington’s delegation and Congress.