Dr. Seth Berkley, chief executive of the GAVI Alliance, said Harper's so-called Muskoka Initiative has made a huge difference in driving down the death rate of Third World children, but more work needs to be done to keep the issue on the international radar and build on recent successes.
"I'd like to see a recommitment to the maternal child health agenda because it is not finished yet," Berkley said in an interview Thursday.
"We don't want it to be one of those flavours of the month."
Harper made maternal and child health his signature initiative when he hosted the G8 in Ontario's Muskoka region in 2010. He committed $2.8 billion over five years to spearhead a global effort to reduce the mortality rate of pregnant women and new mothers, their babies and children under age five.
The prime minister gave the issue greater focus last fall when, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, he declared it to be Canada's "flagship" development priority.
Harper recently announced that he will host a three-day conference in Toronto in late May that will bring together international health experts to focus more attention on the issue.
Berkley said Harper "stuck a stake in the ground" that has made improving the health of children and mothers an international development priority, and locked other countries into making financial commitments to it.
"It's important in a world where there are many development priorities and other issues," said Berkley, after a meeting in Ottawa with Development Minister Christian Paradis.
"So we were delighted to hear the prime minister is going to host another meeting. And what we would like very much is that immunization is core to that meeting."
The GAVI Alliance is one of Canada's main multilateral agency partners on the initiative, along with several United Nations agencies, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the Micronutrient Initiative. GAVI focuses on vaccinating children in poor countries against diseases such diarrhea and pneumonia.
"All the work we do connects within that," said Berkley.
GAVI is a private-public health partnership that was founded in 2000, and that counts the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a key benefactor. Berkley said that in its first 13 years, it has immunized 440 million kids and prevented six million deaths.
The alliance aims to prevent another six million deaths between 2016 and 2020, he said.
Berkley said that its inception in 2010, the Muskoka Initiative has made "a pretty dramatic difference" in reducing child death rates, but he added that more work needs to be done to extend treatment to children in hard-to-reach areas.
Canada has contributed $473 million to the organization since 2002, about 3.5 per cent of its overall budget.