Harper to Chair Accountability Commission for Maternal Health Funds

26/1/2011- Prime Minister Stephen Harper will chair an international commission to make sure that funds deployed to maternal and child health care initiatives in poor countries are well-used.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has warned the international community that more stringent transparency and accountability mechanisms are needed to make good on goals to improve maternal health across the developing world.

To date, the world has pledged $40 billion to save 16 million lives by 2015 through maternal and child health initiatives. As the host of the G8 Summit in June 2010, Harper used the opportunity to bring to light the millions of women and children who lose their lives to pregnancy-related complications and preventable diseases.

The global strategy that emerged, if unexpectedly, became Harper’s hallmark in the social development arena. Canada itself pledged $2.85 billion over five years for maternal and child health. About $1.1 billion is in entirely new funds, Harper’s office has noted.

Maternal health and the well-being of children are intricately related.  When mothers lose their lives, the child could be left an orphan. In many countries, fathers do not assume primary care-giving responsibilities. This is why international organizations define children as a child who has lost one or both parents.

But, the nutritional and health status of a woman can also have a bearing on children’s health. Malnourished mothers are more likely to give birth to underweight children. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund’s 2009 State of the World’s Children report, of which maternal and child health was the theme, almost 40% of under-five deaths (3.7 million in 2004) take place when the child is less than a month old.

Speaking in Geneva at the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO), Harper expressed his concerns. “This wind of change won't be able to materialize unless we give oversight and accountability the same attention – without precedent – that we dedicate to women and children's health,” he said.

He further suggested that the setting up of the Commission on Information and Accountability would be very helpful in this respect.

Harper will serve as the co-Chair of the Commission that has two objectives: one, to ensure that countries the made financial pledges follow-through with the funds; and two, to ensure that the funds are spend accountably.

The Commission is expected to be well-received, especially in light of the discovery of the misappropriation of millions of dollars from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Global Fund is worth $21.7 million. An investigator found that funds had been used to purchase vehicles or were simply transferred into individuals’ bank accounts. Other funds simply vanished.

Jakawa Kikwete, President of Tanzania – who has praised Harper’s “Muskoka Initiative” in the past – will serve as the other Commission Chair.