Posted by: davidjolson | 06/26/2010

Most NGOs less than delighted with Muskoka Initiative

TORONTO, Canada — The global health community’s reaction to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s announcement yesterday of “The Muskoka Inititive,” a $7.3 billion commitment towards maternal, newborn and child health ($5 billion from the G8; $2.3 billion from other countries and the Gates and United Nations foundations) was predictably mixed, but surprisingly negative, after the final G8 communiqué was released midday on Saturday.

Most of the large NGOs that also implement programs reacted negatively. The African Medical & Research Foundation, one of the Council’s members very engaged in the G8 and G20 here in Toronto, had a more positive assessment while still acknowledging that the commitments are still far “below expectations.” Only the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Women Deliver had positive assessments of the Muskoka Initiative.

ONE Campaign: “The resources announced by the G8 is a start but falls far short of the amount needed to get two of the most neglected Millennium Development Goals back on track.”

World Vision Canada: “Overall, the Muskoka Initiative looks more like a small down payment than an adequate investment, and won’t reach as far as it must to stop needless early deaths.”

Save the Children U.S.: “That focus [on the tragedy of millions of poor children and women dying of preventable causes] … failed to translate into the bold leadership required to save these lives. Governments need to do better at the September U.N. Summit on the Millennium Development Goals.”

African Medical & Research Foundation (AMREF): “This support is welcomed by AMREF. However this is well below expectations and in order to achieve real progress, previous commitments must be delivered and the total spend must be appropriately directed.”  

The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health:History will mark 2010 as a turning point for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. The G8 pledge puts us closer to the $30 billion needed to reach our goals by 2015, and to making the United Nations Secretary-General’s Joint Action Plan for Women’s and Children’s Health a reality.”

Women Deliver: “This is great news. Canada and Prime Minister Harper should be proud of their efforts to lead and champion the maternal and child health causes. But Canada is definitely in the lead when it comes to financial pledges, and we wish that the other G8 leaders weren’t so far behind.”

The Sherpa Times had a good round-up of NGO reaction yesterday.

I think AMREF and Women Deliver got it about right.

Stephen Harper rightly deserves credit for getting this issue front and center on the G8 agenda and committing a considerable amount of Canada’s own money for the initiative. After all Canada is the smallest of the G8 country in population but pledged a fifth of the total pledge — $1.1 billion in five years.

But it is unfortunate that Harper was unable to convince more of his G8 colleagues to pledge more of their own money to make a very welcome development even more promising. But that is understandable given that they are still churning through economic recoveries at various stages and several, especially the U.K., are facing severe austerity measures for their own citizens.

AMREF has two of its African health experts — Dr. John Nduba and Victoria Kimotho — here in Toronto to explain to the media how the new money should be spent and how it should be tracked. I think this is what we should all be doing more of. AMREF’s press release yesterday explained clearly what is needed to make the Muskoka Initiative a success:

“Canada and G8 partner countries need to direct these funds to basic, frontline health services in sub-Saharan Africa in order to significantly improve the survival of women and children. AMREF’s experience demonstrates that a community-based approach is the most successful strategy for reducing deaths of mothers and children and is essential to achieving all health Millennium Development Goals. Further, African governments need to be supported and held accountable for their part in the delivery of health interventions in the communities.”

I really like AMREF’s focus on explaining on how existing money for maternal, newborn and child health is already being used cost-effectively and how new money would be used to help the people for whom it is intended. The last two days in The Globe and Mail of Toronto, Canada’s largest newspaper, AMREF has published a quarter-page ad that says: “One in 16 women in Africa risk dying dying in pregnancy and childbirth. With more trained midwives and accessible health centres, 80 per cent of these mothers would suvive.” I think we in the global health community should be doing a lot more explaining and a lot less whining.

The Globe and Mail also published a good editorial this morning, saying that the initiative will make a real impact, and gets the issue on the international agenda.  And The Globe and Mail pointed out that “the announcement explicitly includes an accountability framework. That creates an opportunity for taxpayers, aid groups and people who benefit from the money to ensure that it is being well spent.”

Accountability will be a key in measuring the impact of this money, and providing a basis for assuring the citizens of the country who foot the bill that it is being put to good purpose.

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