After 42 years of service, Sen. Orrin Hatch is coming home. As his seventh term winds down, we have one more thing to ask. A thing that perhaps only Sen. Hatch can accomplish. The Reach Every Mother and Child Act is languishing in Sen. Bob Corker’s desk drawer. First introduced in 2015 and passed in the House, it died in the Senate without a hearing. Reintroduced this session, it has garnered wide support with 47 Senate co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, yet still has not been put before the Foreign Relations Committee.
The Reach Act does not increase taxes, just directs the U.S. Agency for International Development to focus its resources and its efforts on saving the 1 million babies who die on the day they are born due to trouble breathing, the additional 1 million babies who die in their first week from infection, and the 300,000 mothers who die from childbirth complications every year. Each of these deaths is its own tragedy for the parents, and for their village. Each of these tragedies is made even worse by the fact that these deaths are almost all easily preventable with simple, inexpensive interventions. The village midwife just needs to be taught a few simple things: to clear the baby’s nose and mouth so that he can breathe, to keep the infant warm, to avoid infection by cutting the umbilical cord with a clean knife, and to stop the mother’s bleeding. All simple. All effective in saving innocent lives.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has already made great strides in reducing these deaths and has reduced them by half in the last two decades, but still has a long way to go. The Reach Act gives USAID the direction, the authority and the tools to work with local governments and local village leaders to help build the knowledge and skills of the village health workers. The mandate to USAID is to do these things with the help of the local populace, not just for them.
One lone man from Tennessee, Sen. Corker, is keeping this from happening. By simply bringing this to a vote, and near certain passage, Sen. Corker could avert so much unnecessary suffering. Sen. Hatch may be the only person with enough influence to get this bill to committee. Millions of lives are on the line. In his 42 years, Sen. Hatch has built up a large stockpile of political capitol and goodwill. Spending some of it now to save these mothers and babies will add to his legacy, will save millions of families and their villages from the heartbreak of these needless deaths, and will promote soft diplomacy by showing the world that America cares.
There are only a few more Senate work days left in the 115th Congress to get this accomplished, or this bill too will die. The Reach Act remains imprisoned in that desk drawer. Sen. Hatch, possibly dressed in a hero’s cape, could stage a desk drawer prison break, rescue the Reach Act, and save millions of mothers and babies. The clock is ticking.