Michael Gerson’s powerful Feb. 24 op-ed column, “Saving lives at the start,” brought into sharp focus one of the great health challenges of the 21st century — stubbornly high maternal- and newborn-mortality rates in Africa and South Asia.

While mortality rates of children younger than 5 have been cut in half since 1990, more than 1 million babies die each year on the day they are born, as a recent Save the Children report noted. Today, 44 percent of all deaths of children younger than 5 are babies within the first month of life.

Mr. Gerson’s column comes at a critical time when the United Nations and stakeholders are reexamining their health priorities for the next 15 years. Last May, health ministers from 194 countries at the World Health Assembly adopted the Every Newborn Action Plan, a critically important step in helping countries focus more on improving care during pregnancy, childbirth and the weeks after birth. This year, as the United Nations develops human development goals for maternal and newborn health, it needs also to set specific indicators to mark progress in reducing maternal and newborn deaths. Clearly, in this pivotal year, the survival of babies and their mothers should be at the top of the world’s global health agenda.

Carolyn Miles, Fairfield, Conn.

The writer is president and chief executive of Save the Children USA.