A U.S. Agency for International Development-funded program in Honduras provides training to parents to monitor and improve the health of their children and the entire household. U.S. foreign aid investments contributed to the global efforts of halving child mortality rate between 1990 and 2012, noted Sen. Patrick Leahy. Photo by: USAID-ACCESO / Fintrac Inc. / CC BY-NC-ND

On any given day, there are dozens of headlines vying for attention in Washington, often ranging from disappointing to distressing. But one in particular should be celebrated: While much remains to be done, this generation of the world’s children is the healthiest in human history.

This year, an unprecedented 6 million fewer children will die before their fifth birthdays than just 25 years ago. Deadly diseases — from diarrhea and pneumonia to malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS — are being prevented thousands of times each day. Polio, once a global scourge that crippled 350,000 children each year, is nearly eradicated, and 10 million fewer children are crippled because of global efforts spurred by U.S. leadership.

In large measure, this success has been achieved through public-private partnerships that pair U.S. and foreign governments with nongovernmental organizations, faith-based groups, universities, philanthropic foundations, multinational corporations and local communities. We’ve acted together, and it’s working.  Here are a few examples:

● Extreme poverty has been reduced by almost 50 percent since 1990.

● More children than ever are attending primary school.

● The child mortality rate was almost halved between 1990 and 2012.

● The maternal mortality rate dropped by 45 percent between 1990 and 2013.

● Treatment for tuberculosis saved millions of lives between 1995 and 2012.

● New HIV infections are declining in most regions.

The United States plays an indispensable role in formulating global health and development strategies, forging coordination among governments and responding to natural and man-made disasters. What few Americans may realize is that we do this, and more, with less than 1 percent of the federal budget. In fact, the portion dedicated to global health, anti-poverty and humanitarian relief aid is just one half of 1 percent.

Our foreign aid helps the poorest of the poor, but we also benefit at home from our investments overseas. This is recognized by Democrats and Republicans alike. Foreign aid builds markets and increases trade opportunities, protects our borders from viruses like Ebola and helps us avoid costly military entanglements that put our sons and daughters directly in harm’s way.

Regardless of the benefits we receive, as the world’s largest economy we have a moral responsibility to help improve the lives and productivity of the world’s most vulnerable people. Helping the needy is a long American tradition, and U.S. foreign aid investments need and deserve the support of the American people. Together we can help foreign governments and local communities provide better nutrition, safe water, sanitation, vaccines, girls’ education and other lifesaving improvements — creating hope, opportunity and stability.

The world has come a long way. Yet 17,000 children still die every day from mostly preventable diseases. Half a million women die each year in childbirth from preventable causes. Some 2 billion people live in abysmal conditions that breed despair and are recruiting grounds for violent extremists.

We must continue working together to meet these challenges. A new set of global development goals will be considered by countries at the United Nations this September. These sustainable development goals are a shared responsibility and will provide another opportunity for the United States to continue and build on its leadership in lifesaving global health and development aid.

In partnership with the U.N. Foundation and Fenton, Devex is examining the progress made toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals and U.S. contributions to spur global progress in our special “#GlobalGoalsWork” series. Join the conversation using #GlobalGoalsWork.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Patrick Leahy

    U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leahy ranks first in seniority in the Senate. He is the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations. He is the senior member of the Appropriations and Agriculture Committees.