Progress has been made towards the Millennium Development Goals of improving maternal health and reducing child mortality yet challenges remain. CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

Commitment to maternal care a start, but further challenges remain

  • May 28, 2014

TORONTO - While progress has been made towards the Millennium Development Goals of improving maternal health and reducing child mortality, challenges remain in order "to reach the most vulnerable and to reach those most excluded," said Rosemary McCarney, co-chair of the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

"And those who have been left behind — they're still waiting," said McCarney.

McCarney was speaking at the opening plenary session of the global summit on maternal, newborn and child health held May 28-30 in Toronto. The summit, titled Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arm's Reach, is hosted by the Canadian government. A follow-up to the Muskoka Initiative launched by Canada at the 2010 G-8 summit, it brings together a range of government officials and experts from around the world. The Canadian government has called maternal and child health its top development priority.

Canada committed $2.85 billion in funding between 2010 and 2015 towards the issue, and helped secure an additional $7.3 billion (U.S.) from other G-20 partners. The Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health is now calling on Canada to make a renewed commitment of $3.25 billion in funding from 2015 to 2020.

"We have to get to the point where no child dies," said Jakaya Kikwete, president of Tanzania. "How do we get to zero?"

Prime Minister Stephen Harper highlighted the importance of accountability in working towards "Canada's flagship development priority."

"You can't manage what you can't measure," he said. "When we say we're going to put in resources — that those resources are put in — and more importantly that there's a system to make sure (they) are used properly and that the results can be tracked so that we know which interventions pay off more than others."

Another area of emphasis is going to be on vital statistics systems and building civil registration.

"As President Kikwete said, obviously it's a terrible tragedy when a mother dies in child birth or a young child passes away," said Harper. "But what's even more shocking is when a child passes away and the child never really had an official existence… It's obviously too easy or easier to understate the value of human life when somebody doesn't have a name, when they don't officially exist."

That same day, Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced that Canada would be providing $98 million in humanitarian assistance funding to the United Nations' World Food Program. The program, which is Canada's largest humanitarian partner, responds to emergencies and works to prevent hunger.

“Canada is proud to be a global leader in supporting nutrition around the world. Increasing food security and ensuring access to nutritious food are at the heart of poverty reduction, and is a fundamental pillar of Canada’s maternal, newborn and child health initiative,” said Ambrose. “Mothers and children are often the most at risk during a crisis and have special food and nutrition needs. Canada will continue to work with the World Food Program to help deliver concrete results for those in need.”

From David Morley's perspective as president and CEO of UNICEF, Canadian money has been really important for training community health workers in Ethiopia and giving them "health posts" so they can be as close to people as possible.

"When there was a famine two years ago in Somalia, there was not a famine in (neighbouring) Ethiopia… There was hunger, but there wasn't all these levels of malnutrition. That's this kind of work — pushing it out at the community level with these community health workers and getting training that ties into a national health system. That's a sign of this working."

But it's key that stakeholders and organizations talk about failures and challenges in order to move forward, he said.

"Half as many children are dying now before the age of five vs. 1990. The death rate has gone from 13 million to roughly 6.5 million but that's still way too many because it doesn't have to be… I hope people will want to keep going."

Media representatives were escorted out during the day's plenaries on immunization and nutrition with high-profile speakers including Dr. Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general of polio, emergencies and country collaboration at the World Health Organization, and Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Program.

(Santilli is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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