The following is an edited version of my pitch, which I submitted in November, 2014.
In January, 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a group of elite global economic leaders in Davos, Switzerland that Canada was going to make the health of mothers, newborns and children the focus of his time as chair of the G8 and G20.
Harper was more associated with Tim Horton’s and hockey - not to mention cold, hard political calculations - than with international development and multilateralism. He isn’t exactly known as a softie and he’d often criticized the UN. But there he was, telling an international audience that Canada cared about maternal, newborn and child health and that it was shocking how appallingly the world had fared so far in lowering deaths among the world’s poorest. Progress on those two Millennium Development Goals (reducing child mortality, also known as MDG 4, and improving maternal health, MDG 5) was slowest of the eight global targets, which were created in 2000 and aim to improve life in developing countries.
The statistics Harper cited were dire, even after years of slow improvement: more than half a million women died in pregnancy every year, while nearly nine million children died before their fifth birthdays.
(Those numbers have since improved: in 2013, an estimated 289,000 women died in pregnancy or labour and 6.3 million children died before their fifth birthdays.)
Later that year, Harper announced $2.85 billion from Canada, for a total of $7.3 billion in aid from countries around the world. The support for maternal, newborn and child health, or MNCH, would be known as the Muskoka Initiative. He also pushed for more accountability in how that money was spent, co-chairing a UN commission with Jakaya Kikwete, the president of Tanzania. Harper has since pledged an additional $3.5 billion for 2015 to 2020.
The money would go to everything from micronutrients and vaccinations to training health workers and educating women about their health: simple and often cheap ways to save millions of lives.
2015 is the deadline for those MDGs, and June will mark five years since the world, led by Harper, zeroed in on maternal and child health. I want to research and report on whether Canada has made a difference, both financially and through our attempt to take the lead, and look at what comes next.
In September, 2015, the UN sets its post-2015 goals. Negotiations are underway and have whittled down a list of 40 goals to 17, each with multiple targets. Many experts believe ending child marriage should be one of those goals, a push Canada seems primed to support: Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has already been advocating to end child marriage, something that would go far in helping improve a number of the MDGs. [APRIL 12, 2015 NOTE: Baird has since retired from politics. Rob Nicholson is now Canada's foreign affairs minister.]
This is the perfect time to visit some of the projects and countries affected by the Canadian funding to see whether the Muskoka Initiative has actually made a difference.