Address by Minister Leitch on behalf of Minister Paradis: Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting

May 5, 2014 - Vancouver, B.C.

Check against delivery

Good morning/afternoon everyone.

Thank you for inviting me to be here in support of the Every Newborn Action Plan, which is an important part of the UN Secretary-General's Every Woman, Every Child efforts.

As many of you know, maternal, newborn and child health is the centerpiece of Canada's international development policy.

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 global efforts on maternal, newborn and child health.

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's more, it's 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.

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

But the most recent data shows that more than six 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, and the most basic health treatments.

Breastfeeding, as the Every Newborn Action Plan points out, is one example of an effective solution that can have remarkable benefits for a child's survival and well-being. 

We cannot stand idle 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 G-8 Muskoka Initiative.

Thanks in large 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 life-saving 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
  • nearly two million pregnant women with iron and folic acid supplements to ensure healthier 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.

For example, in Tanzania, one of Canada's development countries of focus, tremendous progress has been made in reducing rates of newborn mortality.

But the health-care system in its largest city – Dar es Salaam – is struggling to keep up with demand.

The region's hospitals are simply not equipped to offer high quality urgent care in obstetrics or to deal with complications.

As the Every Newborn Action Plan highlights, the importance of quality of care at birth is absolutely critical to the survival and well-being of mothers and newborns.

With the population of Dar es Salaam expected to climb from 4.5 million to 6 million by 2020, ensuring that mothers and newborns have the services can mean the difference between life and death.

An NGO called Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania, or CCBRT, is playing a critical role in improving that situation.

And I'm pleased to announce that Canada will contribute $10.2 million to help CCBRT achieve these goals.

CCBRT is managing a new specialized hospital in Dar es Salaam.

Our contribution will help to recruit and train close to 900 health care workers for the new hospital.

It will also enhance the skills of health management teams in 22 public health facilities in the Dar es Salaam region, and ensure that more mothers are referred to hospital when necessary.

Ultimately, the project is aimed at improving access to quality health services for some half a million vulnerable pregnant women and their newborns.

But as you are all keenly aware, ensuring that newborns survive past the first month and grow into healthy children – not just in Tanzania, but all over the developing world – has to go beyond improving the quality of care at birth.

Much of it comes down to nutrition…to the importance of immediate and exclusive breastfeeding for six months after birth….and to complementary feeding practices. 

Immediate and exclusive breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for newborns.

It provides them with essential nutrients.

It boosts their immune system.

And it reduces their risk of contracting infectious diseases.

Estimates show that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months could save approximately 200,000 infants per year.

It is such a simple and effective solution.

And yet, there is a significant knowledge gap among women about when and why and how and for how long to breastfeed.

To help reverse this trend, the Government of Canada is giving $20 million to FHI Solutions as part of their "Alive and Thrive" initiative to improve the nutrition, health and survival of newborns and infants where undernutrition is widespread.

Our support highlights the importance Canada places on improving nutrition as part of our global efforts on maternal, newborn and child health.

This initiative will support an innovative approach to improving infant and young child feeding practices.

This includes:

  • engaging the private sector in the development of marketing strategies to improve breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices;
  • promoting optimal breastfeeding practices during the neonatal period and improved diets for women during adolescence, pregnancy, and lactation; and
  • building the capacity of frontline health workers to address undernutrition effectively, and conduct awareness and behaviour-change activities.

Through these and other initiatives, 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.

And we will continue to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

Thank you.