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Canadian Leaders Focus On Hunger, Disease Prevention At G8 Meeting

G8 countries should make use of low-cost, effective tools to prevent hunger, disease and premature deaths among women and children in developing countries, Bev Oda, Canada’s international cooperation minister, said on Tuesday at the opening of a meeting of G8 development ministers in Halifax, the Toronto Sun reports (Payton, 4/27).

“We have the means and the tools to make a difference for vulnerable mothers, newborns and young children in developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where most of their deaths occur,” Oda said, Xinhua reports. “I hope that my G8 colleagues will follow Canada’s leadership in recognizing the importance of nutrition in both our food security strategy and in our efforts for healthier mothers and infants,” she added.

According to the news service, Canada’s G8 maternal and child health initiative “involves a wide range of interventions across the continuum of care, including training and support for frontline health workers, better nutrition and provision of micronutrients, proper medication, family planning, immunization, clean water, sanitation and others.” Countries will focus funding according to their own agendas (Tong, 4/27).

“Oda didn’t mention contraception or abortion in her opening remarks,” the Toronto Sun notes (4/27). On Monday, Oda made comments that “clearly ruled out” abortion as part of the initiative, Canwest News Service/Vancouver Sun reports. “Canada will only fund maternal health projects in developing countries as long as the projects don’t divide Canadians, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday in defence of his government’s refusal to fund abortion services abroad. Harper fended off accusations from opposition leaders in [the PM’s] question period that the government’s position is destroying Canada’s credibility on maternal health, that it signals a break in consensus with its G8 partners and that the abortion debate has now been reopened in Canada,” according to the news service (Fitzpatrick/Foot, 4/27).

After meetings with G8 colleagues on Tuesday, Oda said “that she and her American counterpart did not disagree on their approaches to improving maternal and child health,” the Canadian Press/ChronicleHerald.ca reports. “I want to assure you that Canada is listening as to the importance of family planning, the impact family planning can have in improving the health of mothers and children,’ she said. “We do not disagree on the definition of family planning that the international community uses.” Meanwhile, Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the USAID, “also said the two countries are not at loggerheads over their differing approaches to maternal health” (Auld, 4/28).

Shah “noted the Obama administration had lifted a ban on aid for groups that funded abortions,” Reuters reports. “Asked whether this meant the United States and Canada were at odds over the issue, he replied: ‘No, not at all'” (4/27).

The Globe and Mail examines how international aid groups are reacting to Canada’s abortion announcement. “[A]lthough international family planning organizations criticized Canada’s position, several major aid agencies banded together to urge Canadians to move past it. They fear political squabbles in the G8’s host country could undermine larger strategies to drastically reduce infant and childbirth deaths. … Aid organizations have argued that there are straightforward ways to slash the number of maternal and young-child deaths in poor countries” (Clark, 4/27).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.