Canada’s leadership in maternal, newborn and child health—the Muskoka Initiative (2010–2015)

Why maternal, newborn and child health?

  • Women and children in developing countries are significantly more likely to die from simple, preventable causes.
  • But progress is being made globally:
    • The number of women who die each year during pregnancy or childbirth has dropped substantially, from 523,000 deaths in 1990 to 289,000 in 2013.
    • The global number of deaths in children under five has also dropped significantly from more than 12 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013.

Canada’s leadership in the Muskoka Initiative

  • In 2010, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s leadership, the G-8 launched the Muskoka Initiative on maternal, newborn and child health with an aim to accelerate progress on improving women’s and children’s health in developing countries.
  • G-8 and non-G-8 partners committed a total of US$7.3 billion in new and additional funding over five years (2010–2015).
  • The Muskoka Initiative succeeded in sparking international attention. In September 2010, during the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched Every Woman Every Child, a global movement mobilizing the resources of governments, international organizations, the private sector and civil society in order to address the major health challenges facing women and children. The goal is to save 16 million lives by 2015.

Areas of focus

  • The Muskoka Initiative focuses on improving nutrition, reducing the burden of disease, and strengthening health systems to deliver integrated and comprehensive health services for mothers and children at the local level, where the need is greatest.
  • The Muskoka Initiative aims to prevent the deaths of 1.3 million children under five and 64,000 mothers, and to give 12 million couples access to family planning.
  • Under the Muskoka Initiative, Canada provided $1.1 billion in new funding and made a commitment to maintain $1.75 billion for existing maternal, newborn and child health programming, for a total contribution of $2.85 billion over five years (2010–2015).
  • Canada is on track to meeting its financial commitments to the Muskoka Initiative. As of January 2015, Canada has disbursed more than 97 percent of the $2.85 billion.
  • Canada is committed to a comprehensive approach to improving the lives of women and children. This approach includes integrated service delivery across the continuum of care from pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, delivery, the neonatal stage, and early childhood.


  • To advance the objectives of the Muskoka Initiative, Canada works with a diverse range of partners. This includes multilateral and global institutions, such as UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Health Organization, and the World Bank. It also includes numerous Canadian civil-society organizations, such as World Vision, Plan Canada, the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, and CARE Canada.
  • Canada also works at the country level with developing-country governments and local civil-society organizations.
  • Launched on November 2, 2010, the Muskoka Initiative Partnership Program is providing $82 million from 2010 to 2015 to Canadian partner-driven projects that deliver concrete development results in countries with high rates of maternal and child morbidity and mortality. Results include the following:
    • expanded access to basic health care for more than 42,000 women of child-bearing age in Bangladesh as a result of training nearly 400 birth attendants, building 13 village maternal and child health centres, and providing 26 locally appropriate emergency transfer vehicles, such as tricycles or boat ambulances;
    • increased disease prevention in Ethiopia through clinical outreach sites, which have provided vaccinations to nearly 9,000 children and antenatal care, including HIV testing and counselling on prevention of mother-child transmission of HIV/AIDS for more than 1,300 pregnant women; and
    • improved awareness of nutrition issues in Mali and Mozambique by training more than 700 people (mostly women) from community groups in effective nutrition practices, including infant feeding, as well as training more than 1,500 community health workers to identify nutrition problems in pregnant and breastfeeding women and in children under the age of five.

Countries of focus

  • Canada focuses its bilateral efforts in 10 countries of focus where maternal and child mortality rates are high. These countries are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan and Tanzania.

Of Canada’s $1.1 billion in new funding, 80 percent flows to sub-Saharan Africa, including Ethiopia, Mozambique, Mali, Malawi, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania, because that region faces the greatest challenges in addressing maternal and child mortality.

Canada’s ongoing leadership to improve the health of mothers, newborns and children (2015–2020)

  • In May 2014, as the Muskoka Initiative was nearing its end, Canada once again mobilized the global community and reinvigorated the discussion and commitment on maternal, newborn and child health at the global Saving Every Women, Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach summit in Toronto. At the summit, Canada pledged an additional $3.5 billion over five years (2015–2020) to improve the health of mothers, newborns and children around the world, building on Canada’s initial investment of $2.85 billion from 2010 to 2015 through the Muskoka Initiative on maternal, newborn and child health.
  • As of January 2015, Canada has disbursed more than 97 percent of the $2.85 billion.
  • Since 2010, thanks to Canadian leadership and subsequent global action, maternal mortality rates are declining and millions more children are celebrating their fifth birthday.
  • In the summer of 2014, Canadians, civil society, academia and private sector organizations were consulted to ensure that Canadians’ wealth of expertise continues to shape Canada’s top development priority: maternal, newborn and child health.
  • At the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014, Canada urged the Assembly to ensure that maternal, newborn and child health remains a top priority in the post-2015 development agenda.
  • Canada’s approach is focused on scaling up interventions that have the greatest effect on maternal and child survival. First, we are strengthening health care systems for women and children by increasing the number of health care workers as well as the local government’s ability to plan for and monitor progress by improving civil registration and vital statistics. Second, we are supporting nutrition by encouraging breastfeeding and ensuring essential micronutrients are available. Third, we are reducing the burden of disease by ensuring that mothers and children receive vaccinations to protect them and the treatment they need when they do become ill.
  • As part of its $3.5-billion commitment to improve the health of mothers, newborns and children around the world, Canada is supporting:
    • Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to provide life-saving vaccines for children in developing countries. Canada’s support will help Gavi to immunize an additional 300 million children against a variety of diseases by 2020 and save an estimated five to six million more young lives, and to scale up immunization efforts in francophone countries.
    • the Global Financing Facility in support of every woman every child, which helps developing countries to sustainably finance maternal, newborn and child health initiatives by streamlining financing and reducing inefficiencies. The facility also helps developing countries to build and strengthen their civil registration and vital statistics systems so governments can ensure that all children are registered and have access to health care.
    • the Micronutrient Initiative, which works to improve the health and nutritional status of vulnerable populations—especially women and children—by providing essential vitamin and mineral supplements. The Micronutrient Initiative is saving and improving the lives of 500 million people every year in 70 countries with its child survival, child health, growth and development, and women’s and newborn survival and health programs.
    • the Eliminate Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Initiative, which aims to provide approximately 3.4 million women of reproductive age with three doses of tetanus toxoid vaccine in Chad, Kenya, Pakistan, South Sudan and Sudan.
    • the Innovating for Maternal and Child Health Program, which supports the innovative work of 20 implementation research teams made up of Canadian and African researchers in 13 sub-Saharan African countries to help resolve pressing challenges and better meet the primary health care needs of mothers, newborns and children in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda
  • Canada also launched a Partnerships for Strengthening Maternal, Newborn and Child Health call for proposals to fund the initiatives of selected Canadian organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector that will help to end the preventable deaths of mothers and children and improve women’s and children’s health in targeted developing countries. This call for proposals sets aside nearly five times more resources for Canadian partners than the Muskoka Initiative Partnership Program.