Grassley: How we can help mothers, children in developing countries

This piece originally appeared in the Des Moines Register.

With innovation and dedication, Iowan Norman Borlaug saved more than a billion people from starvation.

His example is inspiring. What can be done to prevent suffering should be done.

The United States already does a tremendous amount to improve global health. With key steps, we can do even more.

Over the past few months, I’ve heard from several Iowans on pending legislation that would help ensure more mothers and children around the world survive conditions like pneumonia, diarrhea and malnutrition.

These individuals asked me to look at the Reach Every Mother and Child Act, introduced in the Senate last year. I reviewed the bill and decided to join as a co-sponsor.

The bipartisan bill requires the federal government to establish and implement a coordinated, whole-of-government, 10-year strategy to achieve the goal of ending preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths by 2035.

It would increase the use of the most effective solutions with a focus on countries’ implementing their own programs that align with existing plans. It sets targets that would be tracked and reported on to make sure the programs are working.

This is not an example of throwing more money after a problem. In fact, there is no commitment of new aid in the bill. It requires only better focus, strategy, efficiency, planning and goal-setting.

The idea of working with countries on the implementation of their own programs makes sense. Why create a mosquito abatement program to prevent malaria from whole cloth if a country already has such a program and could use U.S. expertise in helping it become a success?

Americans are extremely generous and compassionate and deserve to have their money, whether tax dollars or donations to a charity, get the most bang for the buck. Mothers and children suffering from something easily prevented is tragic. Compounding the sadness and frustration is when aid money doesn’t get anywhere near the people it’s supposed to feed and clothe, either through local corruption or a lack of infrastructure or a non-functional government.

The Reach Every Mother and Child Act is meant to use the expertise of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department to target the countries where U.S. dollars will do the most good, with benchmarks and monitoring to achieve the results.

The Iowans who raised the bill to my attention described the acute need. They spoke to me about the 5.9 million children under the age of 5 who die each year from completely preventable causes like pneumonia, diarrhea and malnutrition. They said the Reach Act focuses on the poorest, most vulnerable populations and would save the lives of 15 million children and 600,000 women within a generation.

The moral case for the legislation is clear. There’s a practical argument for it as well. Most consumers live outside the United States. Healthy mothers and children could become consumers of U.S. exports, like the corn and soybeans Iowa produces. Healthy children who are able to go to school and grow up with an education are able to increase the prospects of their country for continued peace and prosperity. Trading partners and allies are positive for U.S. national security.

I’m grateful for those who brought the Reach Act to my attention. Representative government is a two-way street between elected representatives and the people we represent. It’s healthy for our democracy when the conversations flow as they did here.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is a Republican from Butler County.