Improving the Health and Well-being of Mothers and Children Around the World

In the immediate aftermath of the First World War, a punishing blockade was imposed on the losing nations of Central Europe.  The hardship was great, and innocent children suffered the most.  Millions faced starvation.

In 1919, a remarkable Englishwoman named Eglantyne Jebb stepped forward and began organizing protests in London over the inhumane blockade. She was arrested, put on trial, found guilty, and ordered to pay a substantial fine.

The judge, however, was so moved by her compassion and courage that he paid the fine himself.  That was the very first donation to the charity Eglantyne Jebb founded: Save the Children.

Today, nearly a century later, Save the Children works in 120 countries, including the United States, and each year helps more than 166 million children receive the food, health care, education, and protection they deserve.  It is ranked as one of the most trusted and effective charities in the world.

I was recently honored to receive a “Champion for Children” award from Save the Children and the Save the Children Action Network.  It was a particular pleasure to share that recognition with Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.  Together, we have co-authored the bipartisan Reach Every Mother and Child Act.  The REACH Act gets to the very heart of the Save the Children mission to improve the health and well-being of mothers and children in developing countries.

Every single day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.  In addition, more than 17,000 children under five years old die each day of conditions we know today how to treat.

Due in part to American leadership, many lives have already been saved.  Since 1990, the annual number of deaths of children under the age of five has been cut in half.  Nevertheless, far too many mothers, newborns, and young children under the age of five still succumb to disease and malnutrition that could easily be prevented.

It is a tragedy that so many preventable deaths still occur when so many life-saving simple, proven, and cost-effective interventions are available if we can simply reach the mothers and children who need them to survive. 

According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, a concentrated effort could end preventable maternal and child deaths worldwide by the year 2035. The REACH Act would require the Administration to develop a ten-year strategy to achieve that goal. 

The United States should be a leader but cannot take on the goal of eradicating these preventable deaths alone.  This is why our bill requires the Administration to develop a financing framework which would leverage federal funding with funding from the private sector, non-profit organizations, partner countries, and multinational organizations toward the goal of ending preventable maternal and child deaths.

In addition to my work on the REACH Act, I will be examining this issue further as a member of the bipartisan Task Force on Women’s and Family Health formed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the esteemed public policy research institution.  The goal of this Task Force is to develop consensus on pragmatic policy recommendations for how the United States can continue to make an effective and sustained impact on global women’s and family health.  I am honored to have been named to this task force. It is vital that the United States continue to provide global leadership in the areas of maternal, newborn, and child health.

Eglantyne Jebb is a shining example of how one person of conviction can make a difference.  We are making progress to fulfill her vision of a world where all children everywhere have a healthy start in life, protection from harm, and a bright future.