Time is running out for mothers and children in the developing world. Less than six weeks remain before the G8 Summit begins in Ontario, and the Canadian government has yet to articulate any plan to reduce maternal and childhood mortality and morbidity, a key objective for the summit announced by Prime Minister Harper a few months ago.
There is, however, a solution at hand that would enable Canada to provide the leadership needed for the G8 to quickly tackle this global challenge. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. A structure already exists that can be used to sustainably provide access to the medical care that will reduce the unconscionable loss of life that occurs from entirely preventable or treatable causes in the developing world.
The World Food Programme (WFP) provides food for the world’s poorest and most marginalized people. This year, they will feed an estimated 90 million people in 73 countries. Those who live in these regions of acute and chronic food insecurity also suffer from some of the highest rates of mortality and morbidity caused by the world’s major killers: diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and of course malnutrition. The reason for this is that a profound lack of access to basic medical care often goes hand in hand with areas that have poor food production. The WFP has feeding centres that deliver food in these remote regions, and the logistical systems to support these centres.
So here is the solution: Why doesn’t the G8 use the WFP’s feeding centres to deliver basic primary care? The WFP’s logistical systems already used to transport foodstuffs to these hard-to-reach places could be used to deliver the medications, diagnostics, power generators, micronutrients, health care workers, equipment for drilling wells and sanitation systems, and family planning needs to the clinics.
Each G8 nation could take the leadership role in one of the inputs needed to provide primary care services. Canada could take the lead in micronutrients and access to clean water and sanitation; the U.S. could train health care workers; the French could lead on providing family planning and access to safe abortions where they are legal. Such a partnership between the G8 and the WFP could be announced at the summit. It would provide focus and a concrete mechanism to actually get medical care on the ground where it is needed.
The funding for this endeavour, which would cost approximately $15 billion over the next five years, could be achieved if the G8 leaders announced the creation of a new global fund for maternal and child health . This could be modeled on the successful global fund to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
The combination of a scientifically based plan of action, defined responsibilities, a new global fund, and a mechanism to implement this plan through the WFP will enable us to save millions of lives.
This summer, the G8 leaders have an opportunity to create the most profound impact on the health and economic future of the world’s poorest people. The absence of a plan and the politicization of this issue over the last several months has been a pox on our house. Prime Minister Harper has said he wants to adopt non-controversial measures, but has not missed an opportunity to talk about preventing women in developing countries from accessing the same abortion rights Canadian women have – a bit rich given that he will never have to personally make such a decision.
The Canadian government still has an opportunity to bury their ideology, demonstrate leadership, and articulate an effective, science-based plan of action that will make a real difference. Let us not miss this moment in time to do the right thing.