Dwight Lewis
May 8, 2008
The Tennessean

It's not one of those so-what days. This Sunday, and surely no one needs to be reminded, is Mother's Day. A day when perhaps more greeting cards will be opened and telephone calls made than any other day of the year.

It is indeed a special day, a special time of the year when we tell our mothers or mother-like figures how much we love them and appreciate all of the things they've done for us over the years. And while you're getting ready for Mother's Day, let me share a few things with you so that we might make Mother's Day brighter for more mothers, not only here in the United States, but all around the world.

And some of what I want to share with you is not all pleasant. In fact, it's pretty sad.

The fact is that more than 200 million children under age 5 do not get basic health care when they need it, with the poorest children missing out and most at risk of dying, according to the ninth annual State of the World's Mothers report issued Tuesday by Save the Children, a U.S.-based global independent humanitarian organization.

Included in the report is the first-ever Basic Health Care Report Card of 55 developing countries that shows which countries are doing the best and the worst at reaching children with basic health care. The Philippines is ranked at the top, and Ethiopia, where more than 80 percent of children under age 5 do not receive basic lifesaving care, is at the bottom.

Basic health care, according to Save the Children officials, is defined as a package of lifesaving interventions that includes prenatal care, skilled care at childbirth, immunizations and treatment for diarrhea and pneumonia. Surely, all mothers want such a package for their child or children, but the State of the World's Mothers report says in 30 of the 55 developing countries, less than half of all young children receive health care.

"We know how to deliver these life-saving solutions," former Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist said last Thursday during a conference call leading up to the release of the report.

"The challenge is to scale up our efforts and forge these new global alliances to ensure basic health-care entities actually reach every village and child in need.

"They are inexpensive, they are proven and we know that they work. It's a matter of both educating and making sure that these lifesaving entities can be delivered in a fair and equitable way."

As the conference call continued, Frist, who is on the board of Save the Children and who wrote the introduction for this year's State of the World's Mothers report, added that there is proposed legislation in Congress now that would help advance this cause.

"It's bipartisan legislation that could save the lives of millions more newborns and young children globally every year because it would provide solutions where they are most needed," he said. "The measure would renew the United States' leadership for child and newborn health programs in developing countries while at the same time ensuring greater coordination and accountability in the delivery of these services."

As to why Congress should address this issue, Frist said first, we have a very fundamental, moral and humanitarian imperative to try and prevent the needless death of children everywhere. "Our nation has always adopted the common cause of those in need, and we have the tools and knowledge to save billions of lives each year, and we should do so.

"Second, increasing our nation's share of support for child and newborn health programs globally is not only the right thing to do but the smart thing to do. It sends a positive, a strong message to other nations by using health as a currency for peace."

And, lastly, he added, "Americans care. A U.S. coalition for children survey conducted last fall shows 93 percent of Americans believe saving these children should be a national priority. This Mother's Day let's work together to give mothers everywhere the chance to see their babies survive to age 5."

That's special, and it's something all of us should work toward this Mother's Day. I guarantee you that would bring a lot of smiles to the faces of many more mothers around the world, and this is something all of us should want to see.