Column: Bipartisan effort to save women and children worldwide

Published Nov. 13, 2015

We are great-grandparents! Our little boy is the first of a new generation in our family. We are excited and want what's best for the baby: health, education and the chance to thrive. Parents everywhere want the same, and a healthy start to life is the first step toward those dreams becoming reality.

Unfortunately, what we in the United States can pretty much take for granted isn't available in many places around the world. Many kids do not have the chance to thrive simply because of where they are born. Where a baby is born should not determine how long she lives.

Congress now has an unprecedented opportunity to influence this. Bipartisan bills in the Senate and House, the Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015, aim to end preventable child and maternal deaths by 2035. Congress can take what has been successful in the recent past and enshrine it for the next 15 years. We're pleased that Reps. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, and David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, have co-sponsored the House bill and Sen. Marco Rubio has co-sponsored the Senate bill.

When our granddaughter was in her fourth month of pregnancy, she developed a kidney infection. Naturally, we were all concerned for her and the baby. She spent a couple of nights in the hospital, took medications, went home to rest, and both of them came through fine. She was fortunate to have access to excellent medical knowledge and care. Many moms and their unborn children wouldn't have survived in poorer countries without access to the programs now available through our foreign assistance programs. We need to keep pressing forward to provide modern health care for them.

Unlike many of the world's problems, this is one that we have the power to solve. And we've made some dramatic progress. With the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development and its global partners, the number of children under the age of 5 who are dying annually has fallen at an astonishing rate, from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013. But with 17,000 children still dying each day — mostly from treatable causes like diarrhea and pneumonia — much work remains.

In 2014, a panel that was invited to study USAID found that our country's main international development agency was not on track to meet its ambitious goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths by 2035. They developed strategies and methods to get the job done, and these are now being implemented. The new legislation will make sure USAID stays on track. The Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015 (Senate 1911 and House 3706) will incorporate these important reforms into law. The legislation supports what we know works, including quality prenatal care, management of labor and delivery and basic treatments necessary for childhood health.

For the first time, experts and scientists agree that it's possible to stop these avoidable deaths once and for all. Lawmakers should seize this opportunity and pass this commonsense, cost-effective and — most importantly — lifesaving legislation.

It is clear that taking care of mothers and children is a nonpartisan issue. Of course Congress is a partisan body, so we seek bipartisan support. We hope the rest of our Tampa Bay House members and Sen. Bill Nelson follow the lead of Ross, Jolly and Rubio. This is important work, and it can be a model for how the two political parties can set aside confrontation and work together in a mutually useful way that serves our nation and the world.

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And our great-grandson and all kids will live in a better place.

Linda and Ken Schatz are Tampa volunteers with RESULTS, a nonpartisan citizens lobby to end poverty.