We are calling today for a dynamic U.S. initiative led by the Trump administration and Congress to unlock the potential of adolescent girls and young women in 13 low-income partner countries that matter significantly to U.S. national interests.
To us and our fellow members of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Task Force on Women’s and Family Health, now is the time to turn our attention to this burgeoning population. We believe adolescent girls and young women are vulnerable in so many ways. They often fall out of view and can be difficult to reach but, fortunately, they’re increasingly visible as an international priority. We are at a moment when U.S. leadership can truly achieve great things.
Over an 18-month period, the Task Force conducted a careful and thorough analysis of the population of adolescent girls and young women in the identified 13 focal countries, 11 of which are in Africa and two in South Asia. We arrived at the powerful idea that the United States should expand and integrate proven health interventions that improve maternal and newborn health, increase access to voluntary family planning, reduce anemia, and expand access to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine that prevents cervical cancer. These steps, when combined with education and targeted efforts to reduce early marriage and gender-based violence, can be transformative for this population.
We are confident this vision will yield a dramatic return on investment. When women and girls in low-income countries are healthy, educated, and employed, they become skilled, productive leaders, capable of seizing opportunities and promoting economic growth. Over the full span of their lives, they create stronger families, more secure communities, and expanded markets. They put the next generation on a pathway to success. In turn, we as a nation benefit from a safer, more prosperous world that reinforces our security and prosperity while enhancing America’s reputation and influence.
We consciously built this initiative on the bipartisan American tradition of investing strategically to spur economic growth and promote health and development in low‑income countries. The less-than-one-percent of the U.S. budget invested annually in foreign assistance has saved the lives of millions of women and children, and has helped millions more escape extreme poverty, enabling countries around the world to become a source of new markets and trade opportunities for U.S. businesses.
We believe we can build on the remarkable, historic gains global health has achieved over the past 15 years. In 2003, President George W. Bush launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), followed by the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) in 2005, with expanded U.S. support for maternal, newborn, and child survival programs and continued support for family planning and reproductive health. His administration also supported multilateral institutions and new and effective international instruments including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The Obama administration subsequently continued and further developed each of these critical efforts. The returns on these investments have been profound, measured in millions of lives saved and improved stability, governance and economic growth.
Success is within reach. We need to maintain the commitment of our national government partners to invest their share, financially and politically. Driving this enterprise must be an intensified ethic of innovation that accelerates new technologies, innovations in the use of digital health tools, deeper knowledge of what truly shapes the lives of adolescent girls and young women, and far better data. At every step, the private sector has to be more deeply engaged by investing in new tools, expanding services, and forging partnerships.
In the oversight of the program, in Washington and in our embassies in the proposed 13 focal countries, we are calling for high-level diplomatic leadership backed by rigorous measurement of results and accountability.
We estimate the annual cost at roughly $634 million. This is significant, but eminently feasible. We preserve high-level leadership; make better use of our existing health and development programs and enlist host governments, international organizations and other donors, as well as industry and foundations to make higher commitments, as we increase our own investments.
This is exactly the direction our country should be heading in its foreign policy and use of its foreign aid. It is the opposite, frankly, of cutting our foreign budget by 37 percent, purportedly recommended by the Trump administration in its first draft of the FY2018 budget. It is not too late for the Trump administration to pause and rethink what truly matters to us as a nation, and what essential tools we require to advance our national interests and protect our homeland.
We’ve done our homework carefully in calculating the dramatic, concrete impacts that will result. If we pursue this vision seriously and successfully, we will save 235,000 lives through cervical cancer vaccinations; avoid over 26,000 maternal deaths, almost half a million newborn deaths, and 1.3 million unintended pregnancies; anemia will decline by 25 percent and school attendance will rise. In combination, these gains will provide the foundation for adolescent girls and young women in the focal low-income countries to live healthier, more secure and more prosperous lives.
What we propose is a signature achievement for the Trump administration, for the United States, for young women, and for the world. We are confident that all sectors of our American society – industry, nongovernmental groups, the faith community, universities and foundations — will rally behind this vision and help it become reality.
Rep. Quigley represents Illinois’ 5th District. Rep. Donovan represents New York’s 11th District. Both are members of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Task Force on Women’s and Family Health.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.