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American, Canadian Officials Discuss Global Health Developments At Recent G8, G20 Summits

The recent G8 summit in Canada’s Muskoka region took an important step forward in improving maternal and child health in developing countries, Canadian and American officials said at a forum Wednesday in Washington, DC.

The forum, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Global Health Policy Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation, focused on the outcomes of the recent G8 and G20 summits in Canada, the evolving role of both bodies and the $7.3 billion Muskoka initiative for maternal and child health.

Leonard Edwards, the Canadian Prime Minster’s personal representative to the G8 and G20 summits, provided some background on how Canada selected the maternal and child health G8 initiative, noting that those Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets have seen the least progress.

The Muskoka summit “played to the strengths of the G8 – its ability to catalyze, its ability to convene,” Edwards said, referring to the $2.3 billion in pledges from non-G8 sources for the initiative. Though similar partnerships have been used before, he said it sets a “very important example of what the G8 can do.” Edwards said Canada is “hoping” for additional pledges for the initiative at the MDG summit in September.

Edwards, who served as Canadian deputy minister of foreign affairs until June, touted the G8 accountability report and said it “has to become an annual exercise.”

Mark Abdoo, director for global health and food security on President Barack Obama’s national security staff, said the Muskoka initiative and the U.S. commitment of $1.35 billion over two years “complements” the Global Health Initiative’s focus on child and maternal health. The G8 initiative is “not too prescriptive,” providing an opportunity for the U.S. to form “deliberative division of labor” in which countries can align contributions with their strengths and expertise.

Abdoo outlined Obama’s vision for development, noting the recently released national security strategy, and his speech at last month’s G8 summit. According to Abdoo, the U.S. approached this year’s G8 summit with the intention of focusing on outcomes. “Our metric for success, shouldn’t be dollars spent, but should be lives saved,” he said.

Both Abdoo and Edwards said the G20’s future role in health and development is uncertain. “We’ll know more coming out of the Seoul summit  as to what that work in progress is transforming into,” Abdoo said, adding that the G20 is a “logical place” to concentrate on economic growth, which can ultimately drive development.

CSIS Global Health Policy Center Director J. Stephen Morrison moderated the panel. Jennifer Kates, vice president and director of global health policy and HIV at the Kaiser Family Foundation, outlined global health spending trends from donor countries, including G8 nations. The data are from a report, launched Wednesday, which examines donor funding for health in low- and middle-income countries. It finds that donor nations’ health spending more than tripled between 2001 and 2008, rising from $7.6 billion to $26.4 billion, an increase in real terms even after adjusting for inflation and currency revaluation (Schiff, 7/8).

The report was authored by researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Stimson Center.

A webcast of the forum is also available below or here with additional resources.

Medill News Service/United Press International also covered the event and highlighted Morrison’s comments about the relationship between the economy and health. “There are a couple things that pop out in that intersection – pandemic preparedness, trade, intellectual property rights, viral sovereignty issues, rising chronic noncommunicable disorders that are arguably galloping forward in a way that’s going to create enormous burdens on society and economies in the future,” he said (Nevulis, 7/7).