Posted by: davidjolson | 06/27/2010

A complicated delivery: G8 commitment to maternal and child health

This is a guest blog of Amy Boldosser, senior program officer for Global Advocacy for Family Care International, a member organization of the Council, who is covering the G8 in Toronto.

TORONTO, Canada — The first day of the G8 Summit on Friday 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 brief comments before the G8’s afternoon session with invited leaders from Africa and the Americas. As the G8 leaders headed into 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 “G8 leaders made a historic commitment to the Muskoka Initiative to maternal, newborn and child health. Together, G8 members have committed US $5 billion over the next five years.” In addition, Harper revealed that G8 leadership had also attracted contributions from other countries and foundations of more than US $2.3 billion for a total of US $7.3 billion — the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and the Gates and United Nations foundations.

Canadian officials refused to release specifics on what each country pledged. Harper indicated that each of the G8 countries made 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 countries’ financial situations and said that since Canada’s economy is in the strongest financial position, it had made the largest country contribution. Press sources provided some rough figures on country commitments:

  • The U.S. committed $1.35 billion over two years (the U.S. 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 about $400 million over five years.
  • Britain committed $300 million per year over two years (like the U.S., 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 G8 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 200,000 mothers 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 Maternal, Newborn and Child Health 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, 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 in November, 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 an even broader commitment of non-G8 countries to save the lives of women and children.

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