Written by Amy Boldosser for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.
The first day of the G8 Summit answered some of the questions that maternal, newborn and child health advocates had about Canada’s signature G8 initiative, The Muskoka Initiative for maternal and child health. Speculation had been rampant all day following Canadian Prime Minister Harper’s midday announcement that Canada is committing $1.1 billion Canadian dollars in new spending over five years for maternal and child health programs in poor countries, bringing Canada’s total maternal and child health spending to almost $3 billion Canadian. Harper made the announcement in his brief comments before the beginning of the G8’s afternoon session with invited leaders from Africa and the Americas. As the G8 leaders headed in to closed door meetings, advocates were left to wonder whether Canada could pull off the heavy lift of gaining similar concrete, new financial commitments from the G8 member states for saving the lives of women and children.
So did they deliver for the world’s women and children? Well, sort of. When the doors were opened and Prime Minister Harper addressed advocates and press again, he announced that the, “G-8 leaders made a historic commitment to the Muskoka initiative to maternal, newborn and child health. Together, G-8 members have committed US $5 billion over the next 5 years.” In addition, Harper revealed that, “G-8 leadership has also attracted the donations and contributions from other countries and foundations of more than US $2.3 billion for a total of US $7.3 billion. In addition to our G-8 partners, we would also like to thank the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the Gates Foundation and the United Nations Foundation.”
Canadian officials refused to release specifics on what each country pledged. Harper indicated that each of the G8 countries did make a contribution, although he admitted some contributed more than others relative to the size of their economies. He chalked up the differences in pledges to differences in priorities among countries and differences in country financial situations and said that since Canada’s economy is in the strongest financial position, it had made the largest country contribution to this flagship initiative. Press sources provided some rough figures on country commitments:
- The US committed $1.346 billion over two years (the US didn’t commit to the requested five years of funding) pending “Congressional appropriations”
- Germany committed more than $500 million over five years
- Japan committed about $500 million over five years
- France committed to about $400 million over five years
- Britain committed $300 million per year over two years (like the US, Britain didn’t commit to five years of funding)
- and Italy, to no one’s surprise, apparently pledged the least of all.
Canada’s leadership in putting maternal and child health on the agenda was generally praised by advocacy groups, and Canada’s $1.1 billion pledge, the largest among G8 members although still short of what advocates had been asking for, was regarded as a “respectable” amount. Reaction to the total Muskoka Initiative pledge, however, was one of disappointment that G-8 leaders had failed to heed calls to double their collective aid on maternal and child health to $4 billion a year, for a total of $20 billion over five years. According to Save the Children, that investment could have saved an additional 1 million children a year and more than 200,000mothers a year.
So now we know what money is on the table but some very important questions remain if we are truly to make progress in reducing the numbers of maternal deaths (more than 350,000 women die every year in pregnancy and childbirth) and newborn and child deaths (more than 8 million children die before their fifth birthday every year).
How will these funds be distributed and used? There is a global consensus on the package of high quality, low cost interventions that are needed to prevent maternal, newborn and child deaths including comprehensive family planning programs; skilled care before, during and after pregnancy and childbirth, including emergency obstetric care, for mothers and newborns; safe abortion, when and where legal; and improved child nutrition and prevention and treatment of major childhood diseases. But some governments, including Canada, have given into political pressures to announce that this money won’t be used to fund provision of safe abortions or potentially even family planning. Advocates will be watching to see how the G8 spends its money and to hold governments accountable for meeting these commitments. As the G20 Summit starts today, we are also hopeful that G20 governments will take up the G8 commitment to maternal and child health. South Korea, host of the next G20, and some other G20 governments are pushing for a bigger role on development and we are hopeful that the pledges made to the Muskoka Initiative by non G8 member countries may hint at a broader commitment of non G8 countries to save the lives of women and children.