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G8 Nations Commit $5B For Maternal, Child Health; Additional $2.3B Committed From Other Countries, Foundations

G8 nations, plus other countries and private organizations, have committed at total of $7.3 billion to improve maternal and child health in the developing world, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday at the group’s summit in Canada’s Muskoka region, All Headline News reports (6/26).

The Muskoka Initiative will allocate the money over five years to “health and nutrition programs that benefit women and children in developing countries,” Canwest News Service/Vancouver Sun reports. “Of that total, $5 billion will come from the G8 nations,” according to the news service (Kennedy/O’Neill, 6/25). An additional $2.3 billion is expected from private foundations and other non-G8 countries, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

“Leaders made a historic commitment,” Harper said. “We are committed to moving towards a day when women in developing countries will not die or suffer disabilities from pregnancy or childbirth,” he said (Argitis/Rastello, 6/28). According to the Wall Street Journal, the G8 leaders said in a statement that they hoped the commitment to maternal and child health “would climb to $10 billion over five years” (Davis/Williamson, 6/27).

The initiative aims to help the global community achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5, Xinhua writes. “We make our commitments with the objective of generating a greater collective effort by bilateral and multilateral donors, developing countries and other stakeholders to accelerate progress on MDGs 4 and 5,” G8 leaders said of the initiative in a declaration. “We are not creating new funding mechanisms. Each donor is free to choose the mechanisms they consider most effective, including multilateral agencies, civil society partners, and direct bilateral support to developing country partners,” the declaration said (6/27).

The U.S. has initially committed “$1.35 billion over two years, subject to the congressional appropriations process, the White House said in a statement,” according to Bloomberg Businessweek (6/28). The Muskoka Initiative “complements” President Barack Obama’s Global Health Initiative, “which partners with countries to improve health outcomes through strengthened health systems, increased and integrated investments in HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and neglected tropical diseases, and through a particular focus on improving the health of women, newborns and children,” a White House press release states. The release outlines several GHI targets for improving maternal and child health (6/25). 

Aid Organizations Disappointed With Pledges

“Aid groups promptly slammed the $7.3 billion effort as insufficient, having expected the world’s richest nations to follow through on a commitment to give $10 billion to their poorer counterparts,” the Washington Post reports. The piece includes reactions from Save the Children and Oxfam. It also notes that the U.S. commitment does not include anything outside of $1.3 billion that was already budgeted for maternal and child health programs this year and in 2011, according to an administration official (Schneider/Branigin, 6/26).

Aid groups “insisted” that pledges “would not meet the needs, and while some applauded Canada’s contribution, they said Mr. Harper had failed to wring comparable amounts out of other countries,” the Globe and Mail reports. “Some countries pledged relatively more than others, at least relative to the size of their economies,” Harper, whose country “ponied up a fifth of the pledge – $1.1-billion in new funds over five years,” said of the initiative. “Obviously the differences in pledges have to do with differences in priorities, but also differences in financial situations” (Clark, 6/25).

MDGs, Development, Previous Aid Commitments

During the summit, the G8 “focused on the problems of the African continent … The G8 agreed to focus and divert efforts toward the training of medical personnel and on establishing better health care,” Arab News reports. “The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to come as close as possible to strive for universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support with respect to HIV/AIDS. G8 donors also expressed their ultimate support for polio eradication to achieve a polio-free world and support the control or elimination of high-burden Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs),” according to the publication.

“Food security was also discussed as an urgent global development challenge, exacerbated by climate change, increasing global food demand, past underinvestment in the agricultural sector, and extreme price volatility which has strong damaging impacts on the most vulnerable,” Arab News reports (Husain, 6/26).

VOA News reports that President Barack Obama invited 18 African leaders to a summit in Washington, D.C., to mark their countries’ 50th anniversaries of independence. “The [senior administration] officials say the summit will include discussions about the 50 years that have passed since independence as well as the key challenges that lie ahead for Africa, including development, food security, global health, and conflicts,” the news service writes (6/26).  

As the summit wrapped up on Saturday, G8 leaders said global economic recovery remained fragile and that the economic downturn had compromised efforts to reach the MDGs, Agence France-Presse reports. “Our annual summit takes place as the world begins a fragile recovery from the greatest economic crisis in generations,” G8 countries said in a joint communique. “The crisis has jeopardized advancement toward meeting some of the 2015 targets. Renewed mutual commitments are required,” according to the statement, which said “both developed and developing countries must do more.”

The communique also said the G8 was “determined to exercise leadership” and “emphasize the importance of regular reports on the progress made in implementing our commitments” (6/27).

Also Saturday at the conclusion of the summit, Harper defended the future role of the G8, describing the group as “refocused, reshaped and re-energized,” Canwest News Service/Vancouver Sun reports.

“At a news conference, Harper said that he and fellow G8 leaders … had discussed the future of the G8 over dinner Friday evening and decided it is here to stay,” the news service writes. Although the G20 has done a “magnificent job” dealing with the global economy over the last year and a half, Harper said there are “limits to what you can discuss and what you can achieve in a group of 20.”

“I think that all the leaders at this point would be pretty strong in their view, based on the discussion we had last night, that the G8 is a pretty essential organization going forward,” Harper said (O’Neill, 6/26).

At the G20 meeting Sunday, world leaders agreed “to reduce government deficits in richer countries in half by 2013, with wiggle room to meet the goal,” the Associated Press reports.

“Leaders of 20 major industrial and developing countries generally sided with cutting spending and raising taxes, despite warnings from President Barack Obama that too much austerity too quickly could choke off the global recovery,” the news service writes. In a closing statement, the G20 said, “Serious challenges remain.” Obama said he was satisfied with the agreement. “We can’t all rush to the exits at the same time,” he said (Raum/Gillies, 6/27).