G8 Development Ministers Agree On ‘Guiding Principles’ For Child And Maternal Health Initiative

G8 development ministers “agreed to a set of guiding principles [for Canada’s G8 maternal and child health initiative] that leaves flexibility for countries to ‘build their basket of initiatives,'” Bev Oda, the Canadian minister for international cooperation, said at a closing news conference on Wednesday, the Toronto Star reports.

“Other countries will choose different actions in order to address and to support our efforts for better, healthy mothers and better, healthy children and they are free to do that,” Oda said. “Delegates to a three-day meeting in Halifax left abortion out of their joint communique, agreeing to focus on on-the-ground efforts at all stages on the ‘continuum of care’ from pre-pregnancy to early childhood” (Smith, 4/28).

“The need for flexibility might be a key element of the plan as Canada takes a different stand from many of its G8 partners on family planning in poor countries,” the Canadian Press notes. While “Oda played down any rift with other G8 countries,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah “restated the Obama administration’s support for a ‘comprehensive approach to maternal health’ that includes abortion.”

But Shah stressed the need for cost-effective proposals because of limited aid budgets. “This initiative that we will pursue will fundamentally focus on saving the most maternal lives for dollars expended,” he said, pointing to efforts that will train health workers and fund local health systems (Auld/Macdonald, 4/28).

Aside from general consensus about costs and health system strengthening, “the plan remains short on specifics,” Canwest News Service/Vancouver Sun reports. “More details are expected in late June after [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper hosts G8 leaders in Muskoka, Ont., where the overseas health initiative is likely to be a major topic of discussion.” Countries did not make specific aid commitments. “It’s at the leaders’ round (in Muskoka) that commitments will be made not only in dollars, but also in terms of what action each country will put into their basket in order to support our efforts regarding maternal and child health,” Oda said (Foot, 4/28).

The Globe and Mail: “Can this increasingly anachronistic club of wealthy countries really deliver on grand plans to save lives in the developing world? It’s no small question, for the G8, and the world. The G8 has a mixed record on fulfilling such pledges, but now that the club has lost its role as the steering committee for the global economy, development issues – along with international security – are supposed to be its purpose. And it remains a club of the world’s biggest aid donors. … the desire to deliver … simple solutions comes up against a vast challenge: how to fix health-care systems in dozens of poor countries that can’t fully fund them ” (Clark, 4/28).

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