Bill Frist
May 11, 2008
The Oklahoman

Today we celebrate a fundamental human emotion: the love between a mother and child. But if flowers and a sentimental card are all that interests you this Mother's Day, stop reading now.

The gifts that would bring tears of joy to most of the world's mothers aren't chocolates or flowers. Instead, mothers want health care that can save their children's lives — inexpensive tools such as vaccines, antibiotics and a trained community health worker.

Last summer I traveled to Bangladesh to provide babies with simple basic care such as vitamin A drops and knit caps. Despite the technological advances of modern medicine, I was reminded that remarkably simple interventions can often save a young life.

Those babies I assisted are fortunate. They escaped the unthinkable fate of the 2 million children each year who die the day they are born. In total, nearly 10 million children — one every three seconds — die annually from preventable causes.

Ninety-nine percent of these deaths take place in the developing world. One in every six children in sub-Saharan Africa still fails to reach his or her fifth birthday. Many parents even resist naming a baby during the first six weeks of life because they fear the child will not survive, a reality utterly unthinkable in the United States.

To aid these innocent victims, Congress should pass the U.S. Commitment to Global Child Survival Act. This legislation, which strengthens America's role in reducing child mortality, invests in highly effective, inexpensive health interventions that can save more than 6 million children each year.

The primary causes of these deaths — birth complications, diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, measles and malnutrition — are rarely fatal in developed countries. By redirecting resources to extend basic care in the developing world through community health services, a goal accomplished by the legislation, millions of children would receive the opportunity to lead healthy, productive lives.

According to Save the Children's State of the World's Mothers report released last week, nearly 200 million children still don't receive basic health care — a major factor explaining why death rates among children in many developing countries remain high.

A U.S. Coalition for Child Survival survey conducted last fall shows 93 percent of all Americans believe saving these children should be a national priority. Yet funding for maternal and child health programs has languished in recent years.

Mothers shouldn't face the uncertainty of a baby's survival when known, readily available, cost-efficient solutions exist. I can think of no better gift to the world's mothers — and their children — than addressing this challenge now. It's the right thing to do for families around the world and it's the smart thing to do for American leadership in the world.