07/08/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Struggle to Protect Maternal Health Abroad

The Huffington Post's Living section joins Mothers Day Every Day, a joint campaign of the White Ribbon Alliance and CARE, in a daily countdown to Mothers Day with special voices working to help save the lives of mothers and newborns around the world. Mothers Day Every Day is advocating for more progress and investments toward safe pregnancy and healthy babies because when women survive childbirth, they give birth to healthier families, communities and nations.

In Northeast Wisconsin, where I come from, this building would be an abandoned farm shed, but in Tanzania, it was a home. No windows, dirt floor, corrugated tin walls and little light as the sun shone through holes in the roof.

At the time, I was serving as the U.S. Ambassador. Shortly after a ribbon-cutting for a new clinic, I toured a local village with my father, a physician who was visiting from the States. The mother who invited us in was a bit overwhelmed with the small crowd entering her home, but our goodwill offering of bags of rice seemed to put her at ease.

As we settled into the small hut, the woman, laboring for each breath, wanted to tell us her story. Her husband and at least one of their children had already been killed by AIDS, and she was obviously in the "home stretch" herself. She explained to us how she had been a successful businesswoman but was now down to her last shillings.

"Ambassador, I have a question," she said through the translator. "With this last bit of money, should I buy textbooks for my children who are healthy or drugs for the ones who are not?"

She wasn't doing it for effect ... this was a sincere question from a mother who faced a terrible choice. Our silence was deafening, but I had no idea what to say.

My father turned to me and said, "Mark, can't the government do something?"

But, of course, in this poor country, there is no Medicaid, no disability and no welfare. The simple, unpleasant truth is that this woman was essentially on her own, and she was left to face these questions alone.

The woman in this Tanzanian village is but one of a sad chorus of mothers across the globe who are fighting disease and its effect upon their children. While we naturally think of Mothers Day in American terms, I can't help but think of that woman I met -- long since passed away -- and those like her who are battling each and every day for the future of their children. This Mothers Day, let's make sure we remember them.

Every minute a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth. And there's absolutely no reason for it. Access to vital health care before, during and after childbirth can save millions of lives.

Furthermore, in Africa, malaria is the single disease that kills more children than any other. The second highest risk group are pregnant women. Yet with simple and affordable interventions -- sleeping under a net, targeted insecticide spraying, and effective medicines -- we can end malaria deaths in just in this generation.

There is lots of hope on the horizon. For example, thanks to the generosity of the American people, more and more health workers are being trained to provide care in remote locations, and more low-cost interventions are being provided to developing nations.

But the only way that we can turn this hope into a historic victory is by truly making Mothers Day Every Day ... by supporting those maternal and child health programs that are working and by making sure that the necessary resources are flowing.

There's no doubt that these are challenging fiscal times... but there's also no doubt that American leadership is crucial to this cause.

The fact that I couldn't answer that Tanzanian mother's question has haunted me ever since. Perhaps working to end malaria deaths and to build the tools to tackle maternal and child health is my way to trying to find an answer.

It's too late for the mother that I met in that broken down home. But it's not too late for others across the world. It's not to late offer hope to these women. It's not too late to make Mothers Day Every Day.

Ambassador Green is a member of the Mothers Day Every Day Advisory Committee.

Check out the rest of our Countdown to Mothers Day series: