Lifesaving Reach Act can impact mothers and children around the globe

All kids deserve a strong start at life and the opportunity not to just survive but to thrive, no matter where they are born.

Tragically, each day, 16,000 children under the age of 5 die from preventable causes such as pneumonia, malnutrition, dehydration and diarrhea. Mothers are also extremely vulnerable, with 800 women dying each day from complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Largely due to U.S. leadership, the world has made great progress in reducing this number since 1990. We have done so through U.S. foreign assistance programs that represent less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget, and only a fraction of this funding is spent on global maternal and child survival programs.

Despite these modest resources, these programs have saved 4.6 million children’s lives in less than a decade. This is one of the great success stories in international development. We have helped countries and communities build the capacity to care for their children and help lift themselves out of poverty.

We have helped empower other countries to take ownership over their own programs to improve maternal and child survival. For example, U.S. government support has led to increased national investments in maternal and child health in Ethiopia, which established the Health Extension Program in 2003 and has since trained 38,000 health workers to deliver basic health services.

Despite these successes, more can be done at a minimal cost to American taxpayers. Doing more to save the lives of mothers and children around the world will further establish America’s moral leadership and help create a more stable, safer world. That’s why I am proud to reintroduce a bipartisan bill along with Reps. Betty McCollum, D-Minnesota, Daniel Donovan, R-New York, and Barbara Lee, D-California, that would do just that — the Reach Every Mother and Child (Reach) Act. The Reach Act would greatly improve the rate at which moms and kids survive, and it would put us that much closer to the global commitment of ending all preventable deaths in the next generation globally.

Through implementing strategies and tactics learned from other hugely successful and bipartisan global health initiatives such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the President’s Malaria Initiative, the Reach Act would streamline and increase the impact of USAID’s maternal and child survival programs in the countries that need it the most.

These programs would be executed under the guidance of a coordinated U.S. government strategy aimed at ending preventable child and maternal deaths and implementing key reforms to improve the efficiency and impact of our taxpayer dollars. This would include requiring reporting to improve transparency, accountability, efficiency and oversight of maternal and child health programs and ensuring that USAID focuses on increasing access to the highest impact, evidence-based interventions to maximize our return on investment.

The Reach Act would also designate a current USAID employee as the child and maternal survival coordinator, helping to ensure the reforms in this legislation are achieved and all relevant U.S. government programs are coordinated and work in cooperation with each other as well as with nongovernmental organizations and the private sector. To help countries become more self-sustaining and to complement existing assistance, the bill would provide USAID with the authority to explore and implement new and innovative financing tools, such as pay-for-outcome contracting that would leverage investments and ensure that dollars are being spent wisely on key programs that will improve the lives of women and children globally.

This critical legislation works without authorizing new programs to be funded by the American taxpayer. It only ensures our government and partners are using existing resources as effectively as possible to save the lives of mothers and children around the world.

I am thankful for the enormous support the Reach Act garnered in the 114th Congress — 219 co-sponsors in the U.S. House and 35 in the Senate. That is one of the most widely supported pieces of any bipartisan global health legislation in the past decade. I urge my colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives to join me in pushing for this lifesaving bill to become law.

Reichert is a U.S. representative for Washington’s 8th Congressional District.

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