Right now, the largest gathering of world leaders in at least a decade is assembling at the United Nations in New York to assess what progress has been made in reducing poverty, improving health and ensuring access to education in developing countries. One issue on the agenda that is especially dear to me is how to combat pregnancy-related deaths and injuries and improve women’s health in developing countries.
No woman should die giving life—and the good news is that most pregnancy-related deaths, as well as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, are preventable with a package of basic, proven health interventions. But despite recent progress, far too many women in poor countries still face terrible risks.
We as Americans should make it a priority to save women’s lives. It’s not only the right thing to do, but these investments also reduce poverty, spur the global economy and protect U.S. national interests. To that end, there are three crucial contributions the United States can make—sound policies, sufficient funding, and true leadership.
To help promote sound policies, I introduced legislation in April that would revise existing U.S. laws to meet—and even exceed—current international standards. My legislation, H.R. 5121, The Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2010, outlines a progressive model for delivering sexual and reproductive health services by supporting voluntary family planning, education and outreach. H.R.5121 also recognizes that half the world’s population is under the age of 25 and promotes sexual and reproductive health care for young people, for instance through comprehensive sex education. It further addresses assistance during humanitarian disasters and conflicts, reduction of unsafe abortion, prevention of STIs and HIV, contraceptive development, training of healthcare professionals, and various other initiatives.
In short, H.R. 5121 is a roadmap that would ensure the maximum impact for the generous financial contributions America is making to global health.
Another top priority is to ensure sufficient funding. The United States is already the world’s biggest donor of international family planning assistance, a proud achievement that we should build on by increasing our current spending on these programs to $1 billion. We should likewise boost our support for other maternal, newborn and child health programs, to at least $2 billion.
The total spending involved is modest given the tremendous impact it will have around the world, and it should be a priority even in the face of our own budgetary restraints. If other countries, including developing countries themselves, do their part, the impact could be truly staggering. Fully meeting the need for both family planning and maternal and newborn health services could cut pregnancy related deaths by 70 percent, and newborn deaths by almost half. The key is to make these investments simultaneously to maximize their impact and, ultimately, save money.
Lastly, the United States should take the lead and become a passionate advocate for women’s health, at the UN meeting and beyond. Secretary of State (and former New York Senator) Hillary Clinton in particular, has been an outspoken champion, and the Obama administration has made up a lot of ground—both on policy and on funding—that was lost during the previous administration. But there’s much more to be done, and we must sustain and accelerate our current efforts to save the lives of women, newborns and children around the world.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Cowardice asks the question – is it safe? Expediency asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question — is it popular? But conscience asks the question – is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position … because it is right.” These health services are vital building blocks of stable societies and healthy economies. Only healthy women whose human rights are protected can be fully productive workers and effective participants in their country’s political processes. Only when women are healthy and empowered can they raise and educate healthy children.
All of us need to do our part to hold ourselves, our government and world leaders accountable. The time is now to make women’s health an international priority. The international advocacy community demands it; the women of the world require it; and the families of the world depend on it. One love.