United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Toronto on Thursday, 29 May, in order to attend a global summit in support of the Every Woman Every Child initiative that was being chaired by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Shortly after arrival in Toronto, the Secretary-General spoke to youth leaders who were gathered by the United Nations Association of Canada to discuss with them the roles that Canadians, and particularly the youth, can play in shaping a development agenda after 2015, the target year for the Millennium Development Goals. He told the youth that they should be global citizens and have both passion and compassion as they deal with the challenges of the future.
The Secretary-General then received a short demonstration of lifesaving technologies that are being developed to improve the health of mothers, newborns and children. Among them were suction-based devices that could allow extracting babies from the womb without using forceps, and vitamin-enhanced tea that could be a valuable nutritional supplement for mothers and children alike.
Shortly afterwards, the Secretary-General met with President Jakaya Kikwete of the United Republic of Tanzania.
The Secretary-General expressed his appreciation for the President’s leadership on sustainable development issues, in his capacity as a co-chair of the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, in addition to his role in the African Heads of State Climate Committee.
They also discussed the situation in the Great Lakes region, as well as the situation in Burundi.
Following that meeting, the Secretary-General met with Seth Berkley of the GAVI Alliance and said after that meeting that he agreed to support the Alliance’s mission to save children’s lives and protect people’s health by increasing access to immunization. He said afterwards that immunization continues to be an essential tool in moving us towards the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
The Secretary-General met in the evening with Prime Minister Harper of Canada and praised his leadership on women’s and children’s health, including as co-chair of the Committee on Accountability and Information. He commended Canada’s commitment, made earlier on Thursday, of $3.5 billion for women’s and children’s health during 2015-2020. They discussed strengthening accountability for women’s and children’s health.
The meeting with the Prime Minister was followed by a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister for the Secretary-General.
On the morning of Friday, 30 May, the Secretary-General first had a tête-à-tête meeting with the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim. He followed that with a meeting with the senior United Nations health officials, including World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan.
The Secretary-General then gave a keynote speech at the closing plenary of the summit on maternal, newborn and child health, “Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arms Reach”.
The Secretary-General shared with the audience how personal the issue of women’s and children’s health is to him by revealing something that he had not previously shared in public. He said that, although he was known as the eldest child in his family, he was in fact preceded by an older brother and sister who died young. (See Press Release SG/SM/15892.)
He told the audience: “When I was a boy, I remember it was considered ‘normal’ to see women and children die in my village. People accepted this as a fact of life. Our food was not sufficient. Women feared giving birth. What should have been the most joyful day was often the scariest or the saddest day instead. Today, too many people still live that reality around the world. We cannot accept that it is ‘normal’ to lose any woman, any child, anywhere.”
The Secretary-General added that the world is currently reducing under-5 deaths faster than at any time in the past two decades, which means 17,000 fewer children dying every day.
But he added that, despite all of our progress, annually, 289,000 women still die while giving life and an estimated 18,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable causes. In particular, an estimated 5.5 million newborn and stillbirth deaths occur every year.
The Secretary-General pointed to five factors to succeed in the future: first, strong leadership at the highest levels; second, the commitment of multi-stakeholder partners at the country level; third, predictable financing; fourth, accountability for resources and results; and fifth, innovation.
The Secretary-General met with the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Rajiv Shah, to discuss maternal and child health and development issues further with him.
Before leaving Toronto, the Secretary-General spoke at a closing press conference with Prime Minister Harper and President Kikwete.
The Secretary-General said that it is crucial for Governments to continue to fight for key goals after 2015, and he thanked the Government of Canada for its announcement of a new commitment of $3.5 billion for maternal and child health.
The Secretary-General noted recent tragic incidents in which women have been the targets of appalling violence — from Pakistan to India to California and Nigeria. He said that the world will never find true peace and prosperity if half the population face discrimination and exploitation. The United Nations is strongly committed to equal rights and the empowerment of women and girls everywhere.
Following the press conference, the Secretary-General flew back to New York.