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Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Melinda Gates visited Davisville Public School in Toronto on Thursday, May 29, 2014, as part of a summit on maternal health. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Melinda Gates visited Davisville Public School in Toronto on Thursday, May 29, 2014, as part of a summit on maternal health.

(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

The Globe speaks to Stephen Harper and Melinda Gates about maternal and child health Add to ...

But also, just on the ground. You know in Canada, we now have, part of what’s grown out of all this, is 70 organizations, you know, NGOs, academic organizations, etc. Who have now come together in a network. They tell me there’s over a million contributors to these various organizations combined, just within this country.

So as I say, it really is here, as well as some other places, we’re really getting some real critical mass behind this. And I think it’s partly because, not just that the cause is noble, it’s because people can see the results. They can understand how results could be achieved and they can see them being achieved.

Ms. Gates, you spoke earlier today about the importance of reproductive rights as part of the continuum of maternal and child health. What role should that be playing as countries like Canada are renewing their commitments? What do you want to see in terms of a focus on reproductive rights?

Melinda Gates: So reproductive health is part of that continuum of great maternal, newborn and child health. And if a woman can plan and space the births of her children, she’s healthier and more likely to survive the births, and her children are more likely to be healthy. So part of the investments have to be, also, to reproductive health and that is contraceptives. Making sure that women all over the world [have access.] If you travel to Africa, women will tell you contraceptives are stocked in – if you look at the global reports – but women will tell you they are not. Well, the reason is, what’s stocked in are condoms. But women will tell you they can’t negotiate a condom and they want access to the different types of tools. Implants, a shot called Depo-Provera that they get.

And if they have access to those tools and education about them, they will absolutely use them because they know it saves their lives and their children’s lives. So that has to be part of that whole package of what we call RMNCH, reproductive maternal, newborn, and child health.

And Mr. Harper, do you see that the same way, that reproductive health needs to be a part of the initiative?

Yes, there’s actually a myth that we don’t fund any family planning or maternal health. That’s not true. We do. We, specifically as a result of a vote in Parliament do not fund abortion services but we fund other forms. And yes, I do happen to believe that’s an essential part of the continuum.

I want to ask you about a specific aspect of this initiative that has generated some criticism of the way the government has gone forward. That’s the decision to exclude funding for safe abortion services. Why have you made that decision, and [since] you’re coming to a point where there’s some rethinking around [where] the funding is going, is that something you’d reconsider?

Well, as I said, that was a decision of Parliament. And, you know, to put it very simply, what we have been trying to do since 2010 is build broad public and international consensus for saving the lives of mothers and babies. You cannot do that if you introduce that other issue. The fact of the matter is it’s not only divisive in our country and in other donor countries, it’s extremely divisive in recipient countries where it’s often illegal.

And so, as I say, to build consensus, and to get as many partners as we can, we just stay out of that issue. There are obviously some organizations that advance that issue but the government of Canada does not advance that issue.

I want to ask you more broadly about how Canada handles foreign aid. You’ve been quite active on this, and you’ve made a number of changes. You’ve merged CIDA with DFAIT and you’ve been quite interested in seeing diplomacy, trade and development working together. Can you tell me what your vision is for the future of Canadian foreign aid?

Look, that’s a broad question. It’s hard to say it all in one word. But let me summarize it. We want to better coordinate what we’re doing with trade and other foreign policies. We do know that development in terms of foreign aid and humanitarian assistance, in the long term, if you’re serious about lifting people up, can’t be completely de-linked from economic development.

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