Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Keeping our word

  • June 4, 2014

All too often nations fail to honour headline-grabbing promises trumpeted at the conclusion of international summits. Leaders move on to other issues and other crises and hope no one remembers pledges made in previous years. 

So the Canadian government should be commended for doggedly pursuing a commitment made four years ago at the Muskoka G-8 summit to make maternal and child health an overseas development priority. Back then Canada pledged $2.85 billion over five years and persuaded other wealthy nations to kick in more than $7 billion to support this important cause. Since then, according to government statistics, millions of lives have been saved through immunization, nutrition and other health programs introduced to mothers and children. 

With a year left on the initial five-year program, the government has now announced it will re-up for another five-year term to run until 2020. The commitment this time is an impressive $3.5 billion to combat disease, improve nutrition and provide basic health care. The money will be strategically targeted to decrease maternal and child mortality rates in some of the poorest nations on Earth. As with the 2010 program, abortion will not be funded. This is all good news. 

What we have here is a rare case of harmony between government policy and Church teaching. The aid initiative announced May 29 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in keeping with the preaching of Pope Francis of a Church for the poor, a Church that can lead a transformation from a culture of materialism and indifference to one of compassion and generosity. An obvious step towards that goal is encouraging health and nutrition programs that respect life for pregnant women, young mothers and their often sick-and-starving children. 

According to the World Health Organization, almost 29,000 women die each year from preventable causes during pregnancy or child birth. Ninety-nine per cent of these deaths occur in developing countries, with more than half of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, almost three million newborn babies die each year, and another three million children die before the age of five, largely from malnutrition and various treatable diseases. 

The numbers are staggering. But they can be reduced dramatically through programs that provide mothers and their children with basic medical attention and nutrition. Wealthy nations have a moral duty to provide that care. They have a fundamental obligation to reach out in compassion to the weakest, poorest, most vulnerable people on the planet and to never act, as Pope Francis says, “as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” 

To its credit, Canada has accepted its share (or more) of this responsibility by making bold promises and then living up to them. 

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