G8 maternal health promises don't go far enough, aid groups say

By 
  • June 29, 2010
maternal healthA $7.3 billion pledge — $5.0 billion from G8 countries and another $2.3 billion from foundations and non-G8 countries — is not enough to stop millions of needless deaths among pregnant women and children under five, and not enough for the G8 countries to say they've lived up to their responsibilities, say Catholic aid groups.

"We're disappointed with the G8 leaders," said Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace executive director Michael Casey.


"It's kind of a failure," said Alexis Anagnan of the French Catholic aid agency Terre Solidaire. (Terre Solidaire and Development and Peace are both members of Caritas Internationalis and CIDSE, the major groupings for Catholic humanitarian and development work.)

In announcing the Muskoka Initiative to reduce maternal and child deaths, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada's contribution "will make significant, tangible differences in the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Citing data from the World Health Organization and the World Bank, the G8 communique said the Muskoka Initiative will prevent the deaths of 1.3 million children under five years old and save 64,000 women in childbirth. It also estimates that this initial pledge will eventually mobilize significantly more than $10 billion between 2010 and 2015.

“Canada led the way in mobilizing support among G-8 and non-G-8 leaders, key donors and private foundations for this initiative to reduce the mortality rates of mothers and their children," said Harper, who made maternal and child health a key item on the G8 agenda. "We have been successful.”

Approximately 80% of Canadian funding will target Sub-Sahara Africa and, according to a government statement, will focus on "improving the services and care needed to ensure healthy pregnancies and safe delivery, while placing a particular emphasis on meeting the nutritional needs of pregnant women, mothers, newborns and young children. "

But the fact Canada's $1.1 billion in new funding for the Muskoka Initiative represents more than 20 per cent of the total is a measure of how far short the rest of the G8 fell, said Anagnan. This is the first time the G8 has had to rely on private foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or non G8 countries such as the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland to come up with a respectable sum, said Anagnan.

To satisfy the United Nations Millennium Development Goals on child mortality and maternal health by 2015, the United Nations estimates it would take between $2.5 and $5.5 billion per year (a total of between $15 and $33 billion) beginning in 2009. The UN pegs the G8 share of the total at about $20 billion.

Approximately nine million children per year die of diseases that could be cheaply and easily treated with immunizations, proper nutrition and better care of pregnant women. Hemorrhages, infection, obstructed labour and very high blood pressure leading to seizures lead to more than 350,000 preventable deaths per year among pregnant women.

A group of Canadian aid agencies had been lobbying for a $24 billion fund over five years.

Ikem Opara, program co-ordinator for Canadian Jesuits International, was happy that the G8 didn't entirely walk away from the Muskoka Initiative.

"That gave me some hope," Opara said. "From my own experience growing up in Nigeria, those were the two things that seemed to affect everybody's day-to-day life the most — child mortality and what maternal health meant."

If the G8 follows through, the extra $7.3 billion could make a difference, he said.

"I'm a glass-half-full guy," said Opara.

But the glass can't stay half full without the developed world delivering on the food security agenda, he said.

"You can't separate those issues, or tackle any of those MDGs without looking at food security as a baseline," he said.

Last year in L'Aquila, Italy the G8 and 19 other countries promised $22 billion over five years for food aid and agricultural investments. Of that total, $6 billion is new money.

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