Saving women and children around the world must continue to be a top priority
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As both a doctor and a former member of Congress, I am proud of the U.S. government's leadership around the world on maternal and child survival. As the global health community marks the fourth anniversary of a global call to action for child survival, we must continue to make women and children a top priority of our foreign assistance programs.

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Before I was Congressman Gingrey, I was Dr. Gingrey. I practiced as an OB-GYN for more than 26 years and delivered more than 5,000 babies. Unfortunately, some of those births involved a complication that required immediate medical intervention. Thankfully for the women in my care, we had those interventions readily available. They had access to medicines to lower blood pressure or techniques to stop excessive bleeding if they needed them, and cesarean delivery was an option when indicated for maternal or fetal emergencies.

Even before they showed up at the hospital, mothers had prenatal care to screen for complications and make sure the baby was developing properly. Access to these important services not only assured they had a healthy pregnancy and delivery, but also set their children off on the right foot.

For millions of women and babies around the world, that is not the case. Hundreds of thousands of women die every year because of complications during pregnancy or delivery. Millions more lose their children before his or her fifth birthday from complications such as premature birth, congenital abnormalities or childhood illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhea. These deaths occur mostly in poor settings, to the most vulnerable families. And many of them are preventable.

The good news is that the rate of maternal and child deaths has been declining steadily every year. Since 1990, child deaths around the world have been cut by more than half, and maternal deaths by nearly as much.

Child and maternal survival programs such as those led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have played a huge role in that progress. By ramping up evidence-based approaches such as prenatal care, labor and delivery services including emergency care, nutrition and simple treatments for childhood illness, USAID has contributed to huge declines in maternal and child deaths.

Because of this tremendous progress, it is possible to imagine a world where all women and children have access to lifesaving services. That is why global leaders came together four years ago to pledge an end to preventable child deaths within a generation. A generation may seem like a long time, but this is a bold goal that requires accelerating the current rate of decline significantly. Importantly, experts say this goal is achievable, but it will require sustained commitment from the U.S. and our partners.

USAID is committed to building on gains in child and maternal survival and making sure they reach the most vulnerable populations to achieve equitable progress. At the same time, USAID is focused on leveraging new technologies and new ways of delivering care to save more lives, faster.

In order to carry forth these efforts, USAID needs a strong mandate from Congress to meet the ambitious deadline of ending needless deaths over the next two decades. Child and maternal survival programs have a long history of bipartisan support in Congress, as they should. Investing in women and children around the world is not only the right thing to do, but also has a wide-reaching and long-term positive return for the U.S. It reduces poverty and stimulates economic growth in developing nations, ultimately increasing our national security and expanding economic opportunities.

As we celebrate this historic commitment, I call on my former colleagues to ensure that the federal government — and its lead agency on this issue, USAID — continues to prioritize the health and well-being of women and children. One way is by supporting the Reach Every Mother and Child Act (H.R. 3706, or its companion bill, S. 1911), which makes ending preventable child and maternal deaths a goal of U.S. policy and ensures effective, impactful funding for programs around the globe.

A woman's fate in the delivery room should not be predetermined based on which continent or country she lives. Let's help give women around the world a chance to safely bring their children into the world and to watch them grow and thrive.

Gingrey, M.D., is a senior adviser at the District Policy Group, a boutique policy and lobbying practice within Drinker Biddle & Reath. Gingrey is a former U.S. congressman who served Georgia's 11th congressional district from 2003 to 2015. The views expressed are the author's own.