Maternal Health

Reasons for Our Concerns

We want Canada to be a leader in promoting and funding the full range of child and maternal health-care initiatives for developing countries. If Canada’s goal is truly to save the lives of women, it must include all the services for reproductive health, that is, contraception, family planning and access to safe, legal abortions.  All three are needed to address maternal mortality and we believe women in developing countries deserve no less than the women in Canada.

That our current government has deliberately excluded abortion from the range of services to be funded, even in developing countries where there is access to safe and legal abortions.

That the omission of abortion is not only at odds with the previously established goals of the G8 summits but it is also a reversal of what has been Canada’s long-standing position on maternal health in poor countries for three decades.

That every 8 minutes a woman in a developing country dies from complications stemming from an unsafe abortion, the majority performed in Africa (World Health Organization).  99% of the world’s unsafe abortions occur in developing countries (U.N. Family Planning Association UNFPA).

That more than 500,000 women and girls die each year from pregnancy-related problems and 70,000 of these deaths are due to unsafe abortions. (Action Canada, Dr. Catherine McDonald.)

That 200 million women around the world desire access to information about safe contraception but are unable to get it. (UNFPA.)  Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon proposed excluding “contraceptives” from the range of funded services.  Fortunately the government changed course at the last minute to at least include contraceptives in the range of services. (CBC News, 18.03. 2010)

That Canada is applying different rules for women in developing countries than for those in our own country.  For example, in Uganda, the lifetime risk of dying in childbirth is 1 in 8 while in Canada it is 1 in 8,000. This disparity does not sit well with women of any political persuasion.

We want our government to pass a bill similar to Bill C-393 (to streamline Canadian Access to Medicines Regime CAMR) to help combat one of the greatest threats to maternal and child health in the developing world, HIV/AIDS.


That 14,000 women, men and children die every day from infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS and that these deaths are preventable with proper drug treatment. However, the vast majority live in countries where the cost of such drugs is not affordable. In Africa the leading cause of death for pregnant women is HIV/AIDS. (UNGASS 31.03.2010)

That  Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) was designed to bring these drug costs down BUT it has proven too cumbersome a process and so far has not helped to get drugs where they are needed. The commitment was made in 2005, but since then only one order has been filled, for Rwanda in 2008.  Bill C-393, passed by parliament in 2011 but timed out in the Senate due to the defeat of the Conservative government in March, would substantially have improved CAMR and turned it into an effective tool to deliver affordable medicines to low-income countries for the quick treatment of infectious diseases.

That enacting Bill C-393 would have amended the Patent Act and Food and Drug Act without delay would have permitted Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime to fulfill its purpose of providing access to affordable medicines wherever they are needed throughout the world as quickly as possible.

We want Canada A) to fulfill its international promise to donate 0.7% of our GNP to developing countries and B) to give our fair share to the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and T.B.


That Canada has made 
A weak commitment to maternal health
By Elizabeth Payne, The Ottawa Citizen May 4, 2012

By the time the dust settles from the federal budget, Canada will have slashed bilateral foreign aid to eight countries, mostly in Africa, with some of the highest rates of maternal and infant death in the world, Malawi and Niger among them. On the other hand, it will continue sending foreign aid to Ukraine, whose rates of maternal death are not far behind many western nations, and other middle income countries with which Canada has trade interests.

That  Canada today is the most economically solvent of the G8 countries, so that this is a most appropriate time to meet our obligations to give our fair share to the poorest in the world.

That  Canada is freezing its overseas development aid at $5 billion and has no plans to meet its UN target at 0.7% GNP.  Canada is only at 0.28% and this is expected to fall, given the freeze.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper froze the aid budget at just over $5 billion in 2010. The March 2012 budget cuts it by $377 million, or 7 per cent, by 2014-15. Cumulatively, that will take $800 million out of our aid programs. Oxfam Canada says Ottawa is “turning its back on the world’s poor.” Read More

That  Sweden, Denmark, Luxemburg and The Netherlands have already met their targets and the U.K., France and Germany have concrete plans in place to reach 0.7%. 

That  keeping our promises to the developing world will go a long way to helping child and maternal health.  Women’s health is a marker for development.  Countries that do not invest in women are destined to become failed states. (Isobel Coleman, senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at Council on Foreign Relations, on CBC video with Carole MacNeil). 

Photograph:  African nurse teaching young girls

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