In January 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a group of elite global economic leaders in Davos, Switzerland that Canada was going to make the health of mothers, newborns and children the focus of his time as chair of the G8 group of leading industrialized nations and the G20.

The statistics Harper cited were dire, even after years of slow improvement: more than half a million women died in pregnancy every year, while nearly nine million children died before their fifth birthdays. (While those numbers have since improved, they are still high: in 2013, an estimated 289,000 women died in pregnancy or labour and 6.3 million children died before their fifth birthdays.)

Later that year, Harper announced Canada would contribute $2.85 billion of a total of $7.3 billion in aid from countries around the world to support maternal, newborn and child health, or MNCH, in what would be known as the Muskoka Initiative. Last year, Harper pledged an additional $3.5 billion to continue the initiative through to 2020.

He also pushed for more accountability in how that money was spent, co-chairing a UN commission with Jakaya Kikwete, the president of Tanzania. The Muskoka money would help fund a range of supports, from micronutrients and vaccinations to training health workers and educating women about their health — simple and often cheap ways to save millions of lives.

This year is the deadline for the UN's original MDGs, and this month marks five years since the world, led by Harper, zeroed in on maternal and child health. In the fall, the leaders will be asked to ratify the UN's next set of goals, known as Sustainable Development Goals, to cover 2015 to 2030.

harper-maternal.jpg

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete are co-chairs of the UN Commission on Women’s and Children’s Health. The two leaders spoke during last year's three-day summit on maternal health in Toronto. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

CBC News, supported by the R. James Travers Fellowship, looks at how Canada has made a difference on those goals, both financially and through its attempt to shift the focus of foreign aid, and look at what comes next.

The R. James Travers Fellowship, named for the late Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen editor and columnist, each year provides $25,000 in financing for a significant foreign reporting project by a Canadian journalist. The CBC's Laura Payton won the fellowship based on her pitch to look at Canada's funding for maternal, newborn and child health projects since 2010. Payton spent May and early June travelling in Tanzania and Haiti, ending in New York City, to visit some of the projects and speak to the people affected by them.

The stories published this week are a result of that work.


The CBC's Laura Payton is this year's R. James Travers Fellow. The Travers Fellowship provided $25,000 in funding for her pitch to look at whether Canada's maternal, newborn and child health program was working. Read more about the project here.