Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for inviting me to speak about the Canadian International Development Agency's work on maternal and child health.
Aid effectiveness is a priority of the Government of Canada, and CIDA's work on maternal and child health delivers on the government's commitment to ensure that Canada's development assistance is focused, effective and accountable.
Improving the health of mothers and children is a foundational development issue. Healthy children, able to thrive and ready to learn, are fundamental to the long-term growth and prosperity of all countries and societies, and ensuring the health of children begins with their mothers. That is why improving maternal and child health and reducing maternal and child mortality and morbidity are both an essential part of the international framework of the millennium development goals.
It is also the reason why the government has chosen to champion this cause at the G8.
The medical journal The Lancet recently reported that maternal deaths have dropped by approximately 35% between 1980 and 2008. This is according to a new study by researchers from the University of Washington and the University of Queensland in Australia.
Now, while I must caution that this is only one study, and it is based on estimates, early reports of new data from the World Health Organization seem to indicate a similar trend. And if true, this provides evidence that investing in maternal and child health can work and can save the lives of millions of women.
But even with these encouraging results, progress has been slower than it should be.
Allow me to start with Millennium Development Goal 5, improving maternal health.
Of all the millennium development goals put forward a decade ago, maternal health is the one that lags the farthest behind. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for young mothers, young girls aged 15 to 19. Every year more than 500,000 mothers die worldwide from pregnancy and childbirth, particularly in sub-Saharan African and Asia, and 20 million mothers suffer lifelong illnesses or other harmful effects from their pregnancies.
For Millennium Development Goal 4, reducing child mortality, the situation is equally concerning.
Although death in children under five has declined steadily worldwide, we have not yet achieved the results we need to at this point if we are to meet the millennium development goals for 2015.
Every year, as you know, three million babies die within the first week of life, and almost nine million children in the developing world die before their fifth birthday because of causes that are largely preventable, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, severe acute malnutrition, measles, and HIV.
As we approach the G8 summit in June and the United Nations millennium development goals summit in September, we are reminded that much work remains to be done.
With proper planning and resource mobilization, it is within the reach of many developing countries to prevent the deaths of mothers and children by strengthening their health systems, training health workers, and providing simple proven interventions such as immunizations, insecticide-treated bed nets, and better nutrition.
The G8 can make a tangible difference in terms of maternal and child health. G8 countries have a strong record of accomplishment in health. In recent summits they committed to eradicate polio and they agreed to scale up support to the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and these have seen results.
They have also repeatedly stressed the importance of strengthening health systems, particularly in Africa, so that people, particularly women and children, have access to quality local health services.
During the G8 development ministers meeting in Halifax last week, the G8 ministers agreed that the most effective approach to improving maternal and under-five child health and reducing mortality and morbidity is through a focus on strengthening developing-country health systems to provide high-impact, integrated interventions on the ground, including skilled birth attendants and immunizations.
Central to these discussions was the view of G8 ministers, who were joined by Mali's health minister, that if you could provide these integrated and comprehensive services at the local level it could make a significant difference in terms of the lives and mortality of children and mothers. These include access to primary care; equipped and resourced facilities; trained front line health workers, particularly skilled attendants for births; and robust health information systems to monitor performance and progress. Ministers also committed to support countries' efforts to improve access at the local level through properly equipped and resourced health systems, including a skilled health workforce.
The G8 ministers also recognized the fundamental importance of improving nutrition. Nutrition is essential to early childhood development and to building a healthy population in the long run, and today, malnourishment leads to serious illness, blindness, mental disorders, and death among the world's most vulnerable. According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition contributes to over one-third of all childhood deaths, and the nutrition of mothers, as you know, is critical for the health of their newborns and their children's future development. So by underscoring nutrition and putting forward its importance as a crossover issue between maternal and child health, I think the G8 can make a fundamental difference here.
I think we gave the chair a copy of the chair's summary coming from the G8 ministers meeting last week in Halifax, if you'd like to circulate it.
Canada's proposed contribution to the G8 maternal and child health thrust could involve various interventions, including responding to the importance of strengthening health systems, in particular human resources for health, at the country and local level through the training, deploying, and retaining of skilled health workers, and family planning, which includes the use of modern contraceptive methods.
It is also important to note that through the government's consultations with the United Nations and other partners, this G8 initiative will complement and make a key contribution to the United Nations Secretary-General's millennium development goals summit in September.
As you know, CIDA is the main means by which the Government of Canada can address maternal and child health, and I'd just like to take a few minutes to give you an outline of some of the things we're already doing.
As you may know, one our main priorities is around children and youth. We're already working in many countries to strengthen health systems, improve access for women to maternal and reproductive health care, reduce sickness and death in newborns, increase immunization, and promote nutrition. Maternal and child health is one of the three components of our priority around securing a better future for children and youth, and it starts with the mothers.
We recognize that effective family planning is one part of improving maternal and child health, and it is an important element of an effective health system. One of the things we know about family planning is that this kind of programming reduces unwanted pregnancies.
Family planning includes the woman's ability to space and limit her pregnancies, which has a direct impact on her health and her well-being, and on the outcome of each pregnancy. So in response to the needs of developing-country partners, family planning is integrated with activities in a number of CIDA's maternal health and safe motherhood projects, in line with our international commitments.
For example, in western Mali, CIDA support has helped to ensure that skilled health workers attend almost half of all deliveries. In Guatemala, CIDA's support to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and its local partner associations has helped to train over 730 health professionals so they may better provide for mothers and newborns during childbirth.
The other component of CIDA's maternal and child health strategy is to promote a healthy start for infants and young children, so they may thrive, attend school, and become active members in their communities.
CIDA has been a leader in promoting proper nutrition and medical services like immunization. We know that undernourishment increases children's susceptibility to infectious diseases, mental impairment, blindness, and permanent physical stunting. That is why CIDA is helping to provide vitamin A, iodine, and other micronutrients, which play a crucial role in the health of young children and mothers. As a founding partner and principal donor of the micronutrient initiative, Canada has become known for its leadership on vitamin A and iodine. Indeed, UNICEF has said that Canada's support for iodized salt programs has saved six million children from mental impairment.
Canada is also helping children through the Catalytic Initiative to Save a Million Lives. In fact, CIDA was the first to support UNICEF in training and equipping front-line health workers to deliver modern malaria treatments, bed nets, antibiotics for infections, and other health services to children and vulnerable groups.
The need to improve maternal and child health is instrumental to fulfilling CIDA's mandate of reducing poverty in the poorest countries around the world.
At the recent UN roundtable meeting in New York, Minister Oda stated that the government is prepared to invest a significant level of new funding in this initiative, and we expect that it will be successful in inspiring other donor countries to follow suit.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. I welcome your questions.