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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets United States President Barack Obama during the official welcoming of the G-8 leaders to the G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ont., on Friday June 25, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets United States President Barack Obama during the official welcoming of the G-8 leaders to the G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ont., on Friday June 25, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe Editorial

On maternal health, Harper pays attention Add to ...

There is less political capital to be gained in playing financial watchdog than in overseeing grandiose funding announcements, such as last summer's $7.3-billion maternal-health initiative at the G8 summit in Muskoka.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper should be lauded, then, for following up on his call for greater G8/G20 spending oversight, by agreeing to co-chair a new UN commission on accountability and transparency.

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Mr. Harper, along with his co-chair, Jakaya Kikwete, the President of Tanzania, add legitimacy and visibility to the commission, which meets for the first time this week in Davos, and will help prevent donors from shirking their responsibilities.

The Prime Minister must make sure that the framework set up to monitor global pledges is transparent and efficient, and that the money is directed to programs that save the lives and improve the health of the poorest and most marginalized women and children.

"You have the donors' word, but in terms of verification, until the money is delivered and spent, you cannot say whether the right programs are being funded," says Dave Toycen, CEO of World Vision Canada. "This commission is a unique mechanism."

The commission will track the progress of the UN's $40-billion Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health, which includes the $7.3-billion Muskoka Initiative.

Canada itself has already allocated about 25 per cent of the $1.1-billion it pledged, directing the money to vitamin and mineral supplements, vaccines, newborn health programs, and to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Maternal and child mortality are the millennium development goals that have been the most neglected. Every year, about 8.1 million children do not reach their fifth birthday due to preventable illnesses such as diarrhea, malnutrition and measles, while maternal mortality is about 500,000.

Children and mothers aren't dying because of a lack of good intentions, but a lack of action on the ground. Children must have access to nutritious food and clean water, pregnant women must be supported by birth attendants, and poor countries must be able to better manage their own health-care systems. The commission - under Mr. Harper's and Mr. Kikwete's leadership - can help make this happen.

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