Nearly 300,000 women die in pregnancy and almost six million children succumb before their fifth birthday.
Noting that the preventable deaths of mothers and kids in developing countries are one of the greatest tragedies of this century, Minister of Citizenship & Immigration Chris Alexander announced last Sunday that the federal government will contribute $20 million over the next four years to the Inter-American Development Bank’s Canadian Fund for Civil Registration for the Caribbean and Latin America (CFCRCLA).
With this support, he said targeted countries will be able to register at least 95 per cent of newborns every year.
“What is most heart-breaking is that most of these deaths could have been prevented with access to clean water, nutritious food or the most basic health treatments,” said Alexander. “Two million more children under the age of five will thus be assured access to health and education, services they may have otherwise missed out. As they grow up, they will enjoy the opportunities that most of us take for granted. They can proudly take their place as full and active citizens contributing to their communities for their own benefit and for the benefit of society.”
Through the CFCRCLA, civil registration and vital statistics registries will be strengthened. Improved data collection and support will enhance the ability of countries to plan and deliver life-saving maternal, newborn and child health services.
“Canada’s focus on maternal and child health reflects the values of millions of Canadians who believe that we cannot stand idly by while the poorest and most vulnerable suffer deaths that are easily and inexpensively prevented,” said Alexander, Canada’s first resident ambassador to Afghanistan. “By working together, eliminating preventable deaths among women, children and newborns is within arm’s reach.”
An estimated 1.3 million children under age five are not registered annually in the Caribbean and Latin America.
“These children have no civil status or identity which means they struggle to access social services like health care and education,” said Alexander. “In many countries, children without birth certificates do not advance past primary school and they typically receive two or three fewer vaccinations than other children. And the problems do not end there. As they grow up, they will be excluded from the formal economy and from the benefits of citizenship which we take pride in as Canadians. Owning property, opening a bank account or registering for school all requires legal documentation.”
Alexander made the announcement at the Family Worship Centre in Pickering, whose congregation is primarily of Caribbean descent.
“This is great news,” said Guyanese-born Bishop Joseph Fisher who founded the church 14 years ago. “We are called to care for others. It’s not what we say but rather what we do that will make a difference.”
The Canadian Caribbean Cultural Association of Durham (CCCAD) also welcomed Alexander’s announcement.
“This is what we call a great symbol of hope,” said CCCAD president Geraldine Wade-Brown. “We are pleased that these children will now be granted the right access to better opportunities and health care. They will be able to exercise their democratic rights and they will be given an identity, making them productive citizens. Certainly it hits a soft spot because a lot of us here have family members who are products of this reality.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hosting a three-day summit in Toronto this week that will shape the future of child and maternal health collaborations in Canada and around the world. The summit ends on May 30.