Bipartisan agreement on mothers

The United States has a long, proud and bipartisan history of leadership in the fight to save children’s lives. We must stay the course.

American researchers pioneered simple solutions that led to a remarkable decline in child mortality worldwide: life-saving vaccines, oral rehydration solutions to treat diarrhea, vitamin A supplements and zinc to fight malnutrition and disease. Much of this was accomplished with generous funding from the U.S. government.

Between 1990 and 2009, the United States worked with developed and developing country partners to reduce the global number of under-5 deaths by more than one-third, from 12.4 million per year to 8.1 million. For years it was unthinkable that our country would abdicate its leadership in this realm.

Polls have consistently shown that more than 90 percent of Americans believe saving children should be a national priority. Congress and administrations since the early 1980s have responded, funding the U.S. Agency for International Development and others to advance the reach of medical breakthroughs and reduce child mortality rates in the world’s poorest countries.

Today, some of our former colleagues in Congress suggest that development assistance is irrelevant to national security, and as a result, foreign aid is ripe for cuts. But they should listen to those who know firsthand the threats we face.

Drawing on his recent experience leading the U.S. Counterinsurgency Training Center in Afghanistan, retired Army Col. John Agoglia says: “It’s difficult to build a stable democracy when health, education and opportunity indicators for women and children are at such low levels. Our policymakers must remember: an investment in people that improves their chances to survive and progress is an investment in our national security.”

Former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy is also speaking out. “Let’s make no mistake,” she says, “investing in women and children abroad is an investment in our own economic future.” She notes that U.S. corporations increasingly rely on developing countries for new-income growth, and points out that many of the world’s largest importers of U.S. goods and services were once recipients of U.S. assistance.

Mulcahy and Agoglia are among the prominent individuals and everyday citizens pressing for continued U.S. investment in women and children in Save the Children’s latest “State of the World’s Mothers” report. The report also discusses particularly effective solutions that may surprise you. For instance, a cadre of community-based health workers, given just six weeks of training and a few basic tools, can reduce child mortality by 24 percent or more.

As countries like Malawi and Nepal have shown, U.S. assistance can help empower some of the world’s poorest nations to deliver a child survival success story through strategic choices that deliver the greatest returns with limited resources.

It’s difficult to find much that politicians can agree on these days, but saving the life of a child is surely a goal we can all support. Mother’s Day is no time to deny moms the most meaningful gift of all: the survival of their children.

Bill Frist, M.D., is a former Senate majority leader. Jon Corzine is a former senator and governor of New Jersey. They are co-chairmen of the Save the Children’s Newborn and Child Survival Campaign.