I am a pediatrician and a mother of three young children. During the summer months, our family of five traveled to India. Like any mom, I was worried about the luggage, car seats and kids not liking the spicy food when we got there, but on the second day of the trip, a mother brought an 18-month-old child with a fever, rash and "sick-looking eyes" for me to examine, and everything fell into perspective. The child had measles, which is a disease I have never seen as a U.S.-trained physician. I have been trained to save lives, but I felt helpless with a child who had contracted measles. This lovely boy was so sick that he could not stand on his own feet. In 2014, measles killed more than 300 people a day around the world, and yet it is a disease that can be prevented with a low-cost vaccine.
Recently, I saw a 9-year-old boy in my suburban Maryland office who moved from Gambia. His mom requested an urgent appointment because he was not allowed to go to school since he had not received any immunizations, including the measles vaccine. From these examples, it is clear that whether you live in Laurel, Md., Delhi, India or Banjul, Gambia, vaccine-preventable illnesses should matter to all of us. We are all interconnected.
We can save lives by making vaccines available to all children everywhere. Currently, there is bipartisan legislation in Congress that would do just that, the Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015 (S. 1911/H.R. 3706). The bill, supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, coordinates a U.S. government strategy to accelerate the reduction of preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths worldwide, helping the United States achieve its commitment to work with countries around the globe to end these preventable deaths by 2035.
The U.S. Agency for International Development leads the U.S. government's work in maternal, newborn and child health, and much progress has been made with the agency's efforts. In fact, both the rate and actual number of deaths of children under 5 years has fallen by half in just 25 years and, over the same time period, the number of measles deaths has fallen dramatically. Still, more can be done to ensure these efforts are coordinated and focused, delivering aid to vulnerable populations while monitoring progress and providing accountability.
As I write, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) remains the only member of the Maryland delegation to support the Reach Every Mother and Child Act. In the past, Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) has also demonstrated leadership on this issue.
As of Dec.18, the House Reach Act (H.R. 3706) has 62 names on it — 27 Republicans and 35 Democrats. Four Republican and four Democratic senators have signed onto the Senate bill (S. 1911). The bill has been referred to the Foreign Relations Committee, on which Cardin sits. Sen. Barbara Mikulski has not yet become a cosponsor.
I am calling on the rest of the federal leaders in our state to follow Rep. Van Hollen's example and support this important legislation in order to save lives.
In this time of world crisis, where we are losing innocent lives at home and abroad, here is an opportunity for all of us to agree. Together, we can end preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths around the world within a generation – that is my message as we approach this year's holiday season, and that is the better world I want my kids to grow up in. What will your holiday message be?
This column has been updated.
Edisa Tokovic Padder is a community pediatrician in Columbia and Laurel, and an active member of the Maryland Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Early Childhood.