Any woman who has pushed out a new human being into the world will tell you: giving birth is wonderful, and more painful that you can ever imagine. It’s also kind of scary. Thankfully for those of us who live in Canada, those fears can be largely alleviated by knowing that we will receive adequate medical care if something goes wrong. Many women living in developing countries do not have that chance. In this context, it is worrying that Canada’s funding for women and children’s health around the world is running out. That’s why ONE has joined around 40 Canadian organisations, including CanWaCH and Global Citizen, to call for the government to renew funding under a bold new plan called Thrive.
Right now, if you give birth in Liberia, you are 100x more likely to die than if you are in Canada. The gap is so wide that you can barely see Canada’s maternal mortality ratio in the chart below. Now compare that to the ratio in Liberia. Women in poor countries are not only much more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes, they also often do not have access to modern contraception methods we take for granted here. In addition, each day 1,000 young women become infected with HIV, and a child dies from malaria every 2 minutes, even though both of those diseases are preventable.
The good news is that maternal mortality rates are decreasing around the world, as the graph shows for Liberia. The end of AIDS, TB and malaria could be in sight, with deaths from these diseases are dropping by one-third since 2002. Canada has played a part in these successes by being a leader in advancing women and children’s health around the world. In 2010 at the Muskoka G8 Summit, Prime Minister Harper led in the development of the Muskoka Initiative on maternal, newborn and child health, not only committing $2.8 billion over 2010-2015 and increasing to $3.5 billion in 2015-2020, but mobilizing funds from other donors as well. The Muskoka Initiative and subsequent investments in sexual and reproductive health and rights have been a non-partisan and very central part of our efforts to help the world’s poorest countries.
The Muskoka Initiative was largely successful. First, donors actually respected their pledge to increase funding for maternal and child health, which is not an automatic outcome of a G8 Summit announcement. More importantly, focussing aid on reproductive and maternal health leads to significant reductions in maternal mortality rates. Investing in women and children’s health is one of the most cost-effective way to spend aid money. The return on investment is very high, with $20 in economic and social returns for every $1 spent. Spending on contraception in particular is so effective that it saves money in the long-run. Every $1 spent on contraceptive services in developing countries saves $2.20 in pregnancy-related costs. This is because it is much less costly to prevent an unintended pregnancy through modern contraception than to provide care for one.
Significant progress has been made but the not-so-good news is this crucial funding is running out in 2020. To make sure programmes for women’s health, fight HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria or providing essential vaccines to children continue to be supported, ONE has teamed up with more than 40 Canadian organizations to promote Thrive, a bold and unprecedented effort led by the CanWaCH, the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health.
A renewal of these funds under the Thrive umbrella would consolidate Canada’s legacy, and secure funding for many essential and effective global health programmes. Canada’s contributions to Gavi, a public-private fund focussed on providing vaccines at affordable prices to children in developing countries, were entirely funded out of the Muskoka Initiative, as were about half of previous commitments to The Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria. A strong Thrive commitment is therefore essential for a successful replenishment of The Global Fund, which could help save 16 million lives.
Canada’s current financial commitment to reproductive, maternal and child health is about $1 billion per year. In order to maintain and scale-up Canadian leadership, an additional $400 million per year is required (see chart below). This would represent more or less Canada’s fair share annual global financing gap for women and children’s health.