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International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino in his office on Parliament Hill, Monday December 3, 2012.Fred Chartrand/The Globe and Mail

Canada's foreign aid agency will work with Grand Challenges Canada in a bid to bring ideas for health innovation to the developing world, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino says.

Mr. Fantino announced the partnership with the federally-funded group Tuesday morning as he opened a multi-day Grand Challenges Canada meeting in Ottawa.

Scientists and development experts are using the event to discuss research and ideas aimed at tackling major health challenges in the world's poorest countries. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is co-hosting the event.

Mr. Fantino used his opening speech to tout Canada's contribution to maternal and child health through its landmark Muskoka Initiative and call for new ideas that can help increase maternal and child survival.

"Our efforts in saving the lives of mothers and children are delivering measurable results," he said, adding, "We also know that overcoming the challenges that exist calls for other, innovative approaches."

Mr. Fantino has spent the last several weeks explaining, in a series of interviews and speeches, why and how CIDA plans to increase its engagement with the private sector.

He called innovation in health a "critical piece of the development puzzle," and one that can involve partners from a variety of sectors, including private companies.

"Innovative responses are needed that encompass new development approaches, new partnerships and enhanced research and development," he said. "We need to encourage new ideas and new thinking."