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  1. Opinion

Column: Tell Congress to move forward on the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria

Published Aug. 12, 2016

While politicians and much of the public are keenly focused on elections right now, we must remember we have a government that needs to operate. Congress is out through August, and all representatives plus a third of the senators are running for re-election. But the people's business must be done.

Consider two matters that call for action: the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and the Reach Every Mother and Child Act.

The Global Fund is an innovative partnership among governments, communities and the private sector. It supports programs facilitated by local experts in countries and communities where there is the greatest need. The Global Fund now has a plan to help save 8 million lives and prevent 300 million new infections from HIV, TB and malaria by 2020.

With bipartisan congressional support, the United States has always led the fund as its largest single donor, leveraging $2 from other donors for every $1 we contribute. The fund's regular replenishment conference is coming up in September in Montreal, and President Barack Obama should again step up with U.S. leadership. A strong U.S. pledge will leverage billions of dollars in contributions from partner countries from their own domestic budgets and produce up to an estimated $290 billion in economic gains as these countries become healthier, more productive societies.

The spread of the Zika virus proves once again that infectious diseases, TB and AIDS included, do not respect international borders. We Floridians, with all our international visitors and what we now know about nonsexual transmission of Zika, are particularly vulnerable.

Not only does U.S. support of the Global Fund fulfill our moral commitment to the world community, but it also stands up well compared to China's influence in Africa. China's self-serving policy seeks prestige as the Middle Kingdom, the center of the universe as they see it.

Now for the second item that requires government action in September: the Reach Every Mother and Child Act. It already enjoys bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.

The numbers that form the background of this legislation are practically incomprehensible as well as morally repugnant. In 1990, 12.7 million children around the world died before reaching their fifth birthday; in 2015, that number had fallen to 5.9 million children, according to UNICEF. Over 17,000 children still die each day from preventable diseases such as diarrhea, malnutrition and pneumonia. Thousands of mothers die too. How important is your mother to your own life's progress? Ours are still with us in spirit every single day.

The Reach Act takes proven successful practices of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and codifies them into law so they will survive a change in the administration, in Congress and at USAID. These practices are recognized for their effectiveness, accountability, transparency and strategic orientation. We can be proud of this progress and ensure that it continues.

But even with bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, there may be little impetus to pass the Reach Act in these days of preoccupation with elections. This would be a big mistake. With support from well more than one-third of the House and more than a quarter of the Senate, passage of this legislation is a no-brainer.

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Our local representatives — Dennis Ross, Kathy Castor, David Jolly and Gus Bilirakis — have co-sponsored the bill and we applaud them. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio support the Senate version. In particular, we acknowledge Reps. Ross and Jolly for their early support, which led other Republicans to sign on. Their foresight and influence came through for mothers and children around the globe. They recognize their leadership roles as Republicans in the House. This partisan transcendence needs to continue no matter how the election turns out.

The president and Congress must remember that they are here to govern as well as get elected. Let them know who's boss. Go to the president's website and thank him for what he's done in the past and tell him to give the same level of support to the Global Fund in September. Go to your representative's and senators' websites and thank them for their recent support of the Reach Act and ask for their support to pass the bill this year. How about September? Both save lives. Isn't that one of your dreams? It certainly is ours.

Ken and Linda Schatz are volunteers with Results, a nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens lobby to create the public and political will to end poverty. They can be reached at RESULTSTampaBay@gmail.com.