Address by Minister Leitch on behalf of Minister Paradis: 20th Canadian conference on global health

Good morning, and thank you for that warm welcome. It is a pleasure to be here and to see so many Canadian experts and global partners.

Looking around this room, it is not hard to see why Canada is so respected around the world when it comes to health.

In that vein, I want to offer my congratulations to the Canadian Society for International Health on your 20th annual conference. These gatherings have made a real contribution to the field of global health.

This year's theme of examining the impact we are having on global health is particularly pertinent. It raises the fundamental questions:

How do we know we are making progress, and what remains to be done?

In September 2000, Canada, along with 189 countries, adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration. In doing so, Canada made a firm commitment to improving the lives of billions of people around the world.

From the Declaration, eight goals were established to help advance progress on key issues: poverty reduction, gender equality, education, health, and the environment. These are all goals that also reflect Canadian values and priorities.

Thirteen years have passed since the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs became the new yardstick for global development efforts, and it is time to take stock.

We know that important progress has been made.

Between 1990 and 2012, mortality rates of children under five fell by more than 40 percent.

Maternal mortality rates have almost been cut in half.

Deaths from malaria have decreased by 30 percent and tuberculosis by 41 percent. Today, 72 percent of children in sub-Saharan Africa receive routine immunization, and more than five million people in developing countries receive HIV treatment.

Despite these achievements, there are still too many people who are malnourished.

There are too many children, especially girls, who are unable to go to school.

And far too many women and children are dying, often from preventable causes such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria.

Canada, under the leadership of Prime Minister Harper, has become a world leader in addressing the global health challenges facing women, children and newborns. Just last month in New York, he renewed that commitment, when he stated that this is not the time to give up on meeting the MDGs.

In fact, it is now more critical than ever to work to meet them—because the cost of not doing so will be measured in thousands of lives lost.

Canada's Commitment and Achievements

When the Prime Minister launched the Muskoka Initiative for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, he made a major contribution toward achieving the MDGs that lag the most—the ones related to reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. This initiative garnered international commitments of US$7.3 billion in new funding over five years, including $1.1 billion from Canada.

And it undertook to prevent 64,000 maternal deaths and 1.3 million deaths of children under five by strengthening health systems, reducing the burden of diseases that are killing mothers and children, and improving nutrition.

With two-thirds of our commitment already distributed, Canada is on track to fulfill our Muskoka pledges by 2015.

I am proud that our international partners know they can count on Canada to pay what we pledge.

Under the Muskoka Initiative Partnership Program alone, 28 projects have received funding to help mothers and children.

Through this program, Aide médicale internationale à l'enfance is improving health services to 150 HIV-positive pregnant and breastfeeding women in Burundi, so that they will have safer pregnancies and be able to prevent the transmission of HIV to their children.

And the Canadian Network for International Surgery is training more than a thousand clinical officers, assistant medical officers and midwives to deliver safer obstetric care in rural Tanzania. Assistant medical officers there will learn how to perform Caesarean sections and, along with midwives, will be taught emergency obstetrical care.

Working with multilateral and global partners such as the Micronutrient Initiative, UNICEF and Helen Keller International, Canada has also provided the majority of the world's vitamin A supplementation since 1997, contributing to a significant global decline in child deaths.

We have also been a key player in the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, coordinating our efforts with donors and other stakeholders to more effectively support countries in their efforts to scale up nutrition and to monitor progress.

Through the Catalytic Initiative to Save a Million Lives, Canada's support has helped UNICEF to distribute 37 million sachets of oral rehydration solution, and 27 million zinc tablets to children in African countries—a Canadian innovation that effectively treats uncomplicated cases of diarrhea, saving young lives.

By investing $1.5 billion in the Global Fund to Fight HIV, TB and Malaria since it began, Canada has helped to achieve significant results. Estimates are that more than 100,000 lives are saved every month through Global Fund programs alone.

Canada has also been very active in vaccination programs global effort to eradicate diseases. On April 2013, Canada committed $250 million for the eradication of polio through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

And our support of the GAVI Alliance, the leading global organization focused on increasing access to immunization in poor countries, has helped prevent more than half a million children from dying over the past 10 years.

Canada's contribution to these health programs, and many others with partner countries, multilateral and Canadian nongovernmental organizations, are part of the reason the Canadian flag is a symbol of hope and generosity around the world.

Looking Beyond 2015

As we look beyond 2015, we know that many targets will not be reached in time for the MDG deadline. The emerging post-2015 agenda must continue those efforts into the future.

Many of the lessons learned since the adoption of the Millennium Declaration need to be applied—especially the importance of accountability, partnerships and innovation.

We know that women and children's health will still need to be a central component of that agenda. And while the UN Secretary General's Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health has brought unprecedented attention to this issue, we are far from where we need to be.

That is why the Prime Minister has made women's and children's health “the flagship priority for Canada's international engagement”.

The world must not lose sight of this issue in the next agenda—especially because we know it is closely linked to the larger issue of equity—not just for women and children, but all vulnerable people.

Any new set of development goals needs to put the poorest and the most vulnerable squarely at the centre of global efforts, so that they will finally have access to the services and resources they so desperately need.

We need to create a world where people not only survive, but thrive—a world where families, communities, and entire countries can prosper and grow.

For that to happen, we need to be able to measure progress, to identify best practices and lessons, and to understand why challenges and gaps persist.

Canada is, once again, leading in accountability. Last year, Prime Minister Harper co-chaired the UN Commission on Information and Accountability for Women's and Children's Health with President Kikwete of Tanzania.

We know development plans must be based on a simple, results-focused accountability framework and strong country-level information systems.

Creating stronger national systems for civil registration will mean that we are better able to ensure that every child born has an identity—which is the basis for access to health services, education and property rights, as well as human rights.

With these vital statistics, we will be better able to know exactly how many people die every day and what they are dying from.

Developing countries will be better able to track and measure their progress.

And finally, better information will give citizens the power to hold their governments to account for the commitments they make.

Innovation will be an important part of our efforts as the development agenda evolves and we find new ways of delivering essential services and supplies. With the new technologies being developed, the proliferation of mobile technology, and the involvement of leading experts and researchers like you, new possibilities are opening up.

And as we engage the know-how and resources of the private sector in development solutions, we have an opportunity to set ambitious goals and achieve them.

We can build on existing partnerships to stimulate innovation. For instance, we have established a strategic partnership with Grand Challenges Canada to support innovative solutions to global health challenges—especially those related to mothers and children dying from preventable causes.

And new partnerships with the private sector and civil society are helping countries to scale up their use of proven nutrition interventions. A good example is the innovative public-private partnership between Canada, Teck Resources—a Canadian-based global mining company—and the Micronutrient Initiative, a global leader in nutrition programming that is based in Ottawa.

This partnership is reducing child mortality by delivering large-scale treatment programs for childhood diarrhoea, which will substantially reduce the number of child deaths. Already operating in Senegal, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and India, over 5 million children have been treated with this effective and affordable treatment in 2012.

Innovation can bring affordable medicines to the doorsteps of vulnerable populations. For instance, Canada has contributed to the Advance Market Commitment for pneumococcal vaccines, which encourages the private sector to invest in new vaccines and make them available in developing countries. These vaccines are now being distributed in 30 developing countries.

Conclusion

As a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and an advocate for children and youth, I am proud of the extent and variety of what Canada is doing to improve global health. I also know that many of the people who have contributed to this effort are in this room today, and I want to thank you.

Between now and the MDG deadline of 2015, our collective challenge is to find new ways to accelerate progress. We also need to take the lessons we have learned about accountability and aid effectiveness over the past 13 years and apply them to post-2015 goals.

And as the former Chair of the Ivey Centre for Health Innovation and Leadership, I am very pleased to see that your conference is examining the role of measurement and putting the right systems in place, as well as bringing the right partners together to achieve success.

Mothers, children and the most vulnerable people need our ingenuity and determination to open the door to better health, so that they can build futures for themselves and their families.

And on that note, I wish you a productive and fruitful three days.

Thank you.