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Aid groups pushed for focus on children at G8

A young boy watches as water, food and hygiene supplies are distributed outside the Hospital Espoire by the humanitarian group Save the Children Jan. 16, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Win McNamee/Win McNamee/Getty Images

Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not have to look far for an issue that would be a suitable "signature" focus of G8 nations: It was in his mail.

Canada's major international aid agencies sent him a letter in October urging that the leaders of eight wealthy states who will meet in Ontario's cottage country in June be asked to improve the health of the world's mothers and their babies.

"We believe that in 2010, Canada has a remarkable opportunity to lead the world on an initiative that would bring millions more children to their fifth birthday, while saving the lives of their mothers," wrote the seven-member coalition of international development organizations.

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Improving maternal health and reducing child mortality have been the laggards of eight millennium development goals set by member states of the United Nations 10 years ago.

"We [at Save the Children]started saying let's target the G8 summit, this one coming up, because it's 2010 and there is a bit of a millennium goal review, and maybe we can make it happen," David Morley, the president of the aid group, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Mr. Morley said his organization and four others - Care Canada, UNICEF Canada, World Vision Canada and Plan International - realized when they met last February that they were all thinking the same way and decided to work together to get the government onside.

Along with two Canadian aid agencies - Results Canada and Action Canada for Population and Development - that joined the cause in recent months, they were delighted when it was announced on Monday that Mr. Harper would take the opportunity of the June gathering to press the issue.

"This is the cause - mother's health and children's help - that we want to champion and that we want to get a shared effort around as we go forward," Mr. Harper explained during a photo opportunity Wednesday in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending a meeting of the World Economic Forum.

"We've been talking to our partners about this over the last few weeks. We've had very good response, and I'm very optimistic that the G8 will embrace this particular cause and move forward and actually achieve some very worthy goals for the sake of many, many desperate people around the world."

A government official, speaking yesterday on condition of anonymity, said it was Mr. Harper who came up with the plan to promote maternal health on the international stage.

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"Lots of groups have lots of ideas," he said. "This is very much the Prime Minister's personal initiative. And it's a good initiative so it's no surprise that people would support it."

It also fits the government's need to keep the G8 relevant. The G20, which will immediately follow the G8 in Toronto, has been growing in importance in recent years, and world leaders have agreed that the larger meeting will replace the G8 as the main economic gathering of wealthy nations.

But the G8 is still a place where legacy projects can get a hearing.

Officials of the Canadian International Development Agency and Foreign Affairs have been asking "good, hard, technical questions" about maternal and infant health, Mr. Morley said, and they agreed "that because a bunch of us were working together that that carried a lot of weight."

Teresa Chiesa of Care Canada said the cause of maternal care was an obvious choice as a signature project because, for years, governments have been "talking about how important this is but nobody actually committed anything to it."

Ultimately, she said, the aid groups recognized that it is such a big project, no country can go it alone. "It needs to influence other governments of the G8 in order to make this go forward," she said.

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With a report from Campbell Clark in Davos, Switzerland

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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