Government of Canada

Global Affairs Canada

Speaking Notes for Minister Julian Fantino: Grand Challenges Conference

December 11, 2012
Confederation Ballroom, Westin Hotel
Ottawa, ON

Thank you, Joseph Rotman, for the kind introduction.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the beautiful City of Ottawa, our Nation's Capital, for this year's Grand Challenges meeting, the first ever held in Canada.

Good health is the foundation for all other good things that come in life.

It is a universal truth that applies equally in all parts of the world.

With good health, children are more likely to learn, and to later capitalize on their potential, becoming integrated parts of their community and economy.

With good health, parents are better positioned to provide for their children, and to contribute to the economic growth that helps societies thrive.

With good health, the challenges that hold people back are more easily overcome.

Both you and I know of the extent of these challenges in the developing world, where roughly 287,000 women still die of pregnancy-related causes every year.

Where 19,000 children per day are dying before they turn five.

And where poverty is keeping far too many people from the healthcare they need to survive.  

Of all the Millennium Development Goals, those related to maternal and child mortality are making the slowest progress.

Canada and Maternal, Newborn and Child Health

This is why Canada has focused so much on maternal, newborn and child health over the last several years.

In my brief time as Minister of International Cooperation, I have already witnessed some of the difficulties people in the developing world endure.

In Africa this past September, I met many mothers of young children.

They spoke of having barely enough food to keep their kids alive, and of walking for miles and miles with sick children in their arms, desperate to find them the healthcare they need.

These experiences underscored for me the importance of continuing to focus our development efforts on mothers and children.

Canada has led the way in efforts to keep mothers and children alive and healthy by gathering support among the G-8 countries, other key donors and private foundations.

In 2010, as part of the G-8 Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, we pledged an additional $1.1 billion in funding to help this effort, while maintaining our existing commitment of $1.75 billion over five years.

In total, our $2.85 billion commitment is to achieve one shared goal-significantly reducing preventable deaths among mothers and children.

Canada's approach to our work on maternal, newborn and child health focuses on reducing the primary causes of mortality for both women and children.  

For mothers, most deaths occur during childbirth or in the first week after a child is born.

Underlying anemia, malaria, HIV-infection and under-nutrition are also key risk factors. 

As you well know, a mother's malnourished state not only increases her risks of complications during childbirth, but poses risks for her child as well, including low birth weight. 

For children, the main causes of death include infection, particularly sepsis and pneumonia, pre-term birth and breathing complications.

They die because they are poor, isolated, without access to routine immunization or health services, their diets lack sufficient vitamin A and other essential micronutrients, and they live in circumstances that allow pathogens to thrive.

To help overcome these challenges, Canada's approach to maternal, newborn and child health focuses on three core paths. 

The first is strengthening health systems, to ensure that countries are able to deliver quality services.

A woman should be able to give birth with a skilled attendant at her side, and at a facility near her home—not 100 km away—as is the case in Niger, for example.

And the health system should be able to treat her child's pneumonia, or provide advanced care to her newborn, as far too many die within their first week of life. 

In Tanzania, Canadian support has contributed to helping more than 43 million people access healthcare services through 4,600 local health facilities.

Eight years ago, 46 percent of babies were born in a health facility, and were delivered by a skilled birth attendant.

That number rose to 51 percent by 2010.

Measured progress, for sure, but progress nonetheless.

The second path in our approach is to reduce the burden of disease, focusing on prevention and treatment approaches.

Six preventable conditions and diseases account for more than 75 percent of under-five deaths.

And pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria alone account for 58 percent of all child deaths. 

For pregnant women, malaria, anemia and HIV are important risks as they account for 20 percent of maternal deaths. 

Reducing the burden of disease is therefore critical to reducing the unacceptable rates of maternal and child mortality. 

The Government of Canada supports the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, whose programs are estimated to have prevented 8.7 million deaths from these three diseases since 2002.

And our work to help train more than 2,000 health workers in Afghanistan has translated into polio vaccinations for more than 7.8 million children in one of the last countries on the planet where polio is still endemic.

Finally, the third path in Canada's approach to the Muskoka Initiative is to improve nutrition, which is an underlying cause of 35 percent of maternal and child deaths. 

We are working to ensure that women receive the nutritional supplements and information they need while pregnant, as well as necessary iron and folic acid to help with the development of their child. 

Breastfeeding is promoted, along with nutritional information, so the right foods are introduced to children at the right time.

By supporting the Micronutrient Initiative, our efforts have improved child development and nutrition.

Through the distribution of essential vitamins and minerals, we have helped to prevent an estimated 470,000 child deaths and mental impairments in 200,000 newborns. 

Health and Innovation

Our efforts in saving the lives of mothers and children are delivering measurable results, and we are proud of that.

But we also know that overcoming the challenges that exist calls for other, innovative approaches.

As the world moves ahead on global health issues, Canada is keen to pursue new ideas that will allow us to make even greater progress in reaching our development objectives.

Grand Challenges Canada is a perfect example of an organization that thinks outside the proverbial box to find solutions to current development challenges.

The Saving Lives at Birth Program is saving the lives of pregnant women and newborns in poor communities.

Creative innovations, such as solar power suitcases that allow a source of power 24 hours a day, or the Odon Device which allows for safer and easier assisted births, are all helping in saving the lives of pregnant women and newborns.

The Saving Brains Program is promoting early childhood development and the formation of long-term human capital.

The Global Mental Health Program is expanding access to mental healthcare in low- and middle-income countries.

And the Stars In Global Health Program is supporting bold ideas that are having a big impact on global health.

Bold ideas such as a $2 clean birth kit, a cost-effective way to ensure women and their newborn are safe, hygienic, and in resource-poor situations, able to have a healthy birth.

I understand that some of the 17 Canadian winners of the Stars in Global Health Program are with us today.


The Government of Canada is pleased to be supporting your bold and creative ideas to tackle health challenges in the developing world.

Each of these programs, and those of the other Grand Challenges teams in the room, represents an innovative approach to global health.

A new way of solving a stubborn problem, or as Grand Challenges itself puts it, of overcoming "a specific critical barrier that if removed would help solve an important health problem in the developing world."

This, really, is the definition of a Grand Challenge.

And it is why the innovative ideas that you bring to the table are so important.

Innovation in global health is a critical piece of the development puzzle.

And if we are to accelerate progress on achieving Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5—reducing child mortality and improving maternal health—innovation will have to figure prominently in our combined efforts.

Because more than ever, innovative responses are needed that encompass new development approaches, new partnerships, and enhanced research and development.

We need to encourage new ideas and thinking.

We need to test these ideas in realistic conditions, bring innovations to operational scale and harmonize efforts.

And we need to find the ways and means to get these innovations out on the front-line of national health services, across all of the countries where the global MNCH burden is highest.

Innovation is about creating new ideas that drive improvement, renewal and change. 

We know that the best way to find solutions to persistent development challenges is to focus on cost-effective, scalable, and rigorously evaluated projects. 

To find new solutions, we need to think about innovation in three key phases, starting from proofs of concept that have the potential for game-changing results; moving towards investing for impact to field test promising project concepts; and finally, bringing new ideas from impact to scale by widely implementing successful project innovations.

This is the new development frontier, and a conference like this one—that brings together the brightest minds in scientific, technological, social, business and government circles—is showing the way.

Innovation is a key building block in what the Government of Canada is  trying to accomplish in the developing world.

Moving ahead, we will look for ways to increase support for novel funding approaches to help solve development problems.

And we will explore new ways of not only supporting new financing, but also of using the expertise of the private, not-for-profit and academic sectors.

These approaches will allow us to tap into local ideas and talent, local innovators, as well as those of globally minded citizens around the world, who saw a problem in another country and said 'I can do something to solve that'. 

We also are looking at ways to test proven innovative concepts in our existing programs, and if appropriate, scale them up.

Being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars should not stop us from taking risks.

But we must bank on smart ideas that hold the promise of improving the lives of the poor, and recognize that when they do not succeed, we learn.

As Henry Ford once said, "failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently."  

That's why I am committed to seeking out innovative partnerships that will increase the impact of our aid initiatives and that will help us deliver on our development promises.

As one example, we have been watching the promising leads emerging from the Stars of Global Health program.

We want to build on the best from this program to further improve health results in developing countries. 

Through this relationship, we will advance and showcase Canada's commitment to innovation for development impact.

The Government of Canada looks forward to working more closely with Grand Challenges Canada in the future, and building on its track record of success and its pipeline of good ideas to further our collective focus on health-related progress.

Ladies and gentlemen, at its core, development will always be about people, about investing in their core capabilities, and in supporting the development of societies that will allow them to maximize their potential and live healthy, happy and dignified lives. 

Your innovations can, and will be, part of this process. 

Our collective challenge is to work together to develop and test new ideas, scale them up and roll them out into the hands of nurses, pharmacists, community health promoters and others.  

We can and should be proud of new ideas coming to fruition, but we are all much prouder when these ideas make a difference in the life of a young mother, or save a child's life.

Global health has made progress, and we have all been a part of it, but much remains to be done before women and children in developing countries are healthy. 

Progress in these grand challenges is critical.

The Government of Canada looks forward to working with new partners, such as Grand Challenges Canada, and pursuing current partnerships with Canada's own International Development Research Centre, your governments, and organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to develop innovative solutions to development problems.

Thank you, and may your time in Ottawa and all your future endeavours prove successful.

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