TORONTO – The Conservative government is pledging an additional $3.5 billion over five years towards the prime minister’s maternal, newborn and child health initiative.
Stephen Harper announcement the new funds, which will cover the period from 2015 to 2020, at a Toronto-area primary school on Thursday.
The commitment is slightly more than the $3.25 billion that a coalition of aid groups had been asking for and was widely hailed by the organizations that are working with the prime minister on the initiative.
The money builds on Harper’s five-year, $2.8 billion commitment to his so-called Muskoka Initiative, unveiled when Canada hosted the G8 summit in 2010.
Rosemary McCarney, a veteran Canadian aid worker who is one of the leaders of a 70-member coalition of aid groups, praised Harper for “a rolling, 10-year commitment, which is very rare in our world.”
Harper said he planned to “persuade and cajole” other governments to follow Canada’s lead.
Dave Toycen, the head of World Vision Canada, said the commitment is significant because it will sustain momentum past 2015 on maternal and child health and keep it from being a flavour of the month in the development world.
Harper has made helping young mothers and newborns in developing countries his signature aid priority.
He says the new funds will be focused on helping young children in the first month of life, who die in numbers that experts describe as alarming.
The prime minister is hosting an international summit on the issue this week in Toronto with experts from around the world, including philanthropist Melinda Gates, who gave the keynote speech at the summit’s first full day.
Harper said there have been some successes, but more must be done.
“We need to finish what we started and sustain global momentum to 2015 and beyond,” Harper said in a statement.
“This is a moral imperative to saving the lives of vulnerable women and children in some of the poorest countries around the world when it is in our power to do so.”
In her speech earlier Thursday, Gates lauded Harper for his “powerful advocacy on behalf of people in developing countries.”
“Under your leadership, and with the support of many people in this room, Canada has earned a global reputation for driving the agenda when it comes to women and children,” she said.
“The Muskoka Initiative rallied the entire world around saving mothers and their babies.”
Gates also credited International Development Minister Christian Paradis with strengthening Canada’s relationship with non-governmental organizations.
The comment appeared to be aimed at Harper’s critics who say he is using the most basic motherhood issue to boost domestic support.
She said Canada deserves credit for funding organizations that have tried to eradicate polio AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
Gates said spending money on the health of women and children pays broad economic dividends, and she made clear she has the heft to advocate for the less fortunate, on whatever side of the power corridor she chooses to walk.
“When I talk to health ministers from developing countries, they want to hear how we can reduce mortality,” she said.
“When I talk to finance ministers, they want to hear how we can increase GDP. Well, let’s make sure everybody knows that the answer is the same in both cases: Invest in the health of women and children.”
Earlier today, Queen Rania of Jordan denounced the deaths of millions of mothers and newborns every year.
“These figures are more than a source of discontent; they are an outrage, an injustice and they have no place in our common humanity,” said the 43-year-old monarch of the tiny Middle East desert kingdom.
“So thank you to Prime Minister Harper and the Canadian government for being discontented with the status quo.”
The Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the world’s 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims, also praised Harper for leadership on the issue, but said much more needs to be done.
“The truth is that our efforts have been insufficient and uneven,” he said.
MIKE BLANCHFIELD –THE CANADIAN PRESS