Address by Minister Findlay on behalf of Minister Paradis: Funding for UNICEF

May 2, 2014 – Vancouver, British Columbia

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Good morning/afternoon, everyone.

Thank you for inviting me to be here.

As many of you know, maternal, newborn and child health is the Government of Canada’s top development priority.

Prime Minister Harper has been championing the health of women and children in developing countries since he launched the G-8 Muskoka Initiative on this issue in 2010.

Last week, at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, he spoke to the media about the three-day summit that he will be hosting there later this month called “Saving Every Woman Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach.”

The summit will bring together Canadian and international experts from all over the world to accelerate efforts on maternal, newborn and child health.

This includes David Morley, who is standing here with us today and who will stand with us at the summit so we can forge a path together on this critical issue.

When asked why Canada was so engaged on this issue, Prime Minister Harper explained that this is something Canadians are passionate about.

That it is the right thing to do.

And what is more, it is doable.

You don’t have to be a doctor or a health expert to agree with that statement.

The preventable deaths of mothers and children in developing countries are one of the greatest tragedies of the 21st century.

Inadequate medical care, undernutrition and diseases continually threaten the lives of mothers and children in developing countries.

No mother should have to choose between herself and the health of her baby.

But the most recent data shows that more than 6 million children die before their fifth birthday.

And nearly 300,000 women die in pregnancy.

This is doubly tragic when we consider that most of these deaths could have been prevented with access to clean water, nutritious food, or the most basic health treatments.

We cannot stand idly by while women and young children in developing countries suffer deaths that are easily and inexpensively prevented.

That is why Prime Minister Harper galvanized global action to reduce maternal and child mortality rates through the Muskoka Initiative.

Thanks in part to the Muskoka Initiative, and subsequent global action, maternal mortality rates are declining.

And millions more children are celebrating their fifth birthday.

Our common goal has not yet been achieved—but it is within arm's reach.

Canadian values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law guide our principled foreign policy and we have a track record of concrete results.

Between 2010 and 2013, Canada's support has helped to provide:

  • 5.8 million children with lifesaving vaccinations;
  • more than 180 million children with two doses of vitamin A each year—a key nutritional element for healthy development, immunity and eyesight; and
  • almost 2 million pregnant women with iron and folic acid supplements to improve the outcomes of their pregnancies each year.

As a result, nutrition is improving, the rates of disease are going down, and more and better health care is available.

We can eliminate the preventable deaths of women, children and newborns, and save the millions of lives that hang in the balance.

Canadian organizations and health experts have played a crucial role in what we have achieved to date.

Dozens of Canadian organizations threw their weight and support behind the Muskoka Initiative.

Together, they formed the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

We can all be proud of the work they have done around the world and of the leadership Canada has shown on the international stage.

But our job isn't done—not as long as lives are needlessly lost.

Progress has been slowest in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa and almost non-existent in many conflict-affected states.

Poor-quality information, in particular, continues to hamper improvements.

Many developing countries don’t have proper data on births and deaths—key information generated by civil registration and vital statistics systems.

In fact, about half of all children under the age of five in developing countries don’t have birth certificates.

What this means is that children are not counted, and in turn, are not getting access to even the most basic health services, such as vaccinations.

This can mean the difference between life and death for those children.

It also means that governments and health professionals do not have the information they need to inform choices on long-term health planning or efficient allocation of resources.

These shortcomings in global and national health information systems were one of the findings of the United Nations Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, which was co-chaired by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete [JA-KA-YA KEE-KWE-TEH].

Their first recommendation was to improve accountability of results by strengthening country civil registration and vital statistics systems.

That is why today, I am pleased to announce that Canada will contribute $20 million to UNICEF for a birth registration project in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

With our support, UNICEF will use innovative information and communication technologies, such as SMS-based mobile phones, to record births and deaths.

The aim is to increase the percentage of children up to the age of five whose births and deaths are registered.

At the same time, countries in sub-Saharan Africa will be able to use this information to improve their maternal, newborn and child health services.

Health planning will be better informed, interventions will be more targeted and resources will be more appropriately allocated.

This project will also have a far-reaching impact on children’s rights and protection.

Birth registration is an essential means of protecting a child’s identity and ensuring they receive health care, social services, and education.

Through this UNICEF initiative and others, Canada will continue to push the health of mothers, newborns and children to the forefront of the global agenda.

And Canada will once again drive the world to action by hosting the high-level summit on maternal and child health in Toronto later this month.

Saving the lives of women and children is not only a moral imperative, it is the foundation for building prosperous communities for this generation—and the next.

This work reflects our most strongly held Canadian values.

With UNICEF and other partners, Canada will continue to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

Thank you.