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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (centre), Melinda Gates and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete participate in a UN event that focuses on the major health challenges facing women and children around the world at the United Nations in New York City Wednesday Sept. 25, 2013.Adrian Wyld

Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged the international community to redouble its drive to improve the health of mothers and children and announced new commitments by his government to pursue that goal at an event in New York.

Speaking at the headquarters of the United Nations, Mr. Harper also said Canada would host a meeting next year aimed at gathering better data on births and deaths in poor countries in order to arrive at more effective policy solutions.

Mr. Harper noted that while maternal mortality rates are falling, they are not declining fast enough to meet the high-profile targets set by world leaders for 2015.

"These goals are literally vital," he said. "Degrees of failure are not measured in dollars, they are measured in thousands of lives."

Flanked by the Prime Minister of Tanzania and philanthropist Melinda Gates, Mr. Harper spoke for ten minutes and underlined the need to make a "final, vigorous and decisive effort" toward meeting the 2015 goals.

Three years ago, at a Group of Eight summit in Muskoka, Ont., Canada committed to spend nearly $3-billion between 2010 and 2015 on bettering the health of mothers and children in the world's poorest countries. On Wednesday, the government announced funding of $200-million on nine projects, which include support for health services, vaccinations and nutrition.

While Mr. Harper is at the United Nations on Wednesday, he is skipping a chance to give a speech to the General Assembly, unlike the majority of the world leaders gathered here. Earlier in the day, he held a brief meeting with Ms. Gates and her husband, Bill Gates. This afternoon he is scheduled to hold bilateral meetings with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Senegal's president.

Mr. Harper highlighted that the initiative started at the Muskoka meeting involved not just promises of funding, but also new standards of accountability for delivering them. Canada has already distributed two-thirds of the money it committed, he said, and is on track to fulfill its pledges by 2015.

Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, also spoke at Wednesday's event and praised Mr. Harper for his leadership of the Muskoka initiative, which she called "a watershed event." Dr. Chan also gently teased him about missing a UN meeting on accountability for women's and children's health in 2011, noting he was busy with a re-election campaign.