March 31, 2016 | The Post and Courier

Mom and baby Africa

South Carolina, and in particular Charleston, has a long history of serving as an international port and point of entry for a panoply of people arriving in the United States from around the world. In the South especially, it has been one of the most cosmopolitan of cities welcoming diverse cultures of influence in architecture, gardens, and food, to name a few.

Today, Charleston is giving back globally, including through its work in developing nations. The city is the home to the Medical University of South Carolina Center for Global Health, the Palmetto Medical Initiative, and Seacoast Church, which houses one of the most robust medical mission programs to developing nations in the country. Together, these organizations have helped thousands around the world.

This week, global health non-profit Hope Through Healing Hands (HTHH) seeks to galvanize the work already being done in Charleston and South Carolina around an important health initiative. HTHH will co-host a luncheon with faith leaders, nonprofit leaders, university leaders, and others in Charleston to discuss how we can better unite on behalf of mothers and children globally, for their health and wellness.

The voices of South Carolinians are very important to this effort, as the state’s senior senator, Lindsey Graham, chairs the Appropriations Committee which determines the level of funding for maternal and child health initiatives in foreign assistance. Sen. Graham has been a strong champion for global health and development, and many other members of Congress in the South Carolina delegation serve on committees where they can support this critical agenda.

Most Americans do not realize that less than 1 percent of the federal budget goes to international affairs, and an even smaller fraction for global health and development. Yet this penny on the dollar is among the most effectively spent government funding, translating into lives saved. We know if we can help keep moms healthy and safe, families have a greater potential to survive and thrive. More specifically, if a woman in the developing world can better time the initial debut of her first pregnancy until after she is 20 years of age, she is five times more likely to survive the complications of pregnancy and childbirth than those just five years younger. And if she can space her children just three years apart, the child is twice as likely to survive the newborn stage.

Healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies reduces mortality rates. Importantly, it also allows young women to stay in school or afford to keep all her children in school. And it enables mothers to go back to work to be able to provide for her family. It’s common sense to fund these efforts as a part of our budget for foreign assistance.

Support for healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies in the federal budget is timely, as Congress is currently considering a piece of legislation that seeks to end maternal and child deaths by 2035 worldwide: the Reach Every Mother & Child Act.

This legislation enjoys strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, and has the backing of 25 diverse NGOs, including UNICEF, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Save the Children. It aims to accelerate and expand U.S. maternal and child efforts in targeted developing countries in partnership with country governments and the private sector. It also codifies successful initiatives which have helped the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) achieve an 8 percent reduction in deaths of children under age 5 in priority countries, saving 500,000 lives in the last two years. Despite this progress, the U.S. could have a greater impact with more robust funding through foreign assistance.

The United States has led the way in halving infant mortality and maternal mortality since 1990. We need your help to go the last mile in eradicating maternal and child deaths by 2035. Let your senator, congressman or faith leader know you want to see global maternal health and the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies funded in the foreign assistance budget. We hope you will join us by lending your voice today.

Bill Frist, M.D., is a former U.S. senator from Tennessee, and founder of Hope Through Healing Hands. Jenny Eaton Dyer, Ph.D., is executive director of the faith-based, non-profit organization.

This article originally appeared in The Post and Courier.