06/19/2012 05:31 EDT | Updated 08/19/2012 05:12 EDT

In Muskoka, It's Not All Waterskiing and Boathouses


After a long ride in a mini bus traveling over bumpy dirt roads, we arrived at Saba Saba Health Centre in Tanzania's Morogoro region. There we met a two year old boy named Daniel, who was being treated for pneumonia as his mother and grandmother watched over him with concern. Pneumonia is one of the most common killers of children under age five. A safe, effective, and affordable vaccine to prevent pneumococcal disease is available in Canada but not yet in Tanzania.

That will change later this year. With thanks to funding from Canada through the Muskoka Initiative for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, the African country becomes the latest of more than a dozen developing countries to introduce pneumococcal vaccine with the support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation Alliance (GAVI Alliance). Since 2002, Canada has supported this public-private partnership and is a founding donor of its innovative financing mechanism, the Advance Market Commitment for pneumococcal vaccines.

Earlier this year, I accepted an invitation from RESULTS Canada to join a delegation to Tanzania to see first-hand how Canadian taxpayer dollars were being spent on cost-effective global health solutions. I wanted to find out how the Muskoka Initiative was making a difference.

Joined by my MP colleagues Judy Foote (Newfoundland and Labrador) and Sadia Groguhé (Québec) and representatives from the GAVI Alliance and RESULTS Canada, we talked to Tanzanian health officials, toured hospitals and health clinics, and visited the rooms where vaccines must be kept cold in order to work effectively. We also traveled to an outreach clinic in a rural village where 100 mothers and fathers lined up in the shade underneath some trees waiting to have their children vaccinated.

As I watched children being protected from disease for just a few dollars, I knew that Canada's cost-effective investments in maternal and child health are making a real difference. Canada is investing in smart, effective aid. Launched at Canada's G8 Summit in 2010, the focus of the Muskoka Initiative is on supporting proven, cost-effective, and evidence-based interventions. Vaccines are just that. Vaccines save lives and help communities to thrive. For just a few dollars, vaccines can prevent disease and reduce the cost of medical treatment and lost wages for parents who must miss work to care for sick children. Two of Muskoka's three goals -- reducing maternal and child mortality and strengthening health systems -- are part of GAVI's core mission and 100 per cent of funding to GAVI for 2011-15 counts towards the Muskoka Initiative.

In Tanzania, I reflected on how many other children like Daniel need these life-saving vaccines. Each year, 7.6 million children around the world die before reaching their fifth birthday. Every 20 seconds, a child dies of a vaccine-preventable disease. Although child deaths have dropped by 70 per cent worldwide over the last 50 years, there's much more work to be done.

Vaccines are an important part of the solution. The GAVI Alliance has an ambitious plan to work with partners including Canada to support countries to vaccinate an additional quarter billion children by 2015 and help to save four million lives.

Canada is committed to a global effort to drastically reduce child mortality and meet the Millennium Development Goals. World leaders are currently meeting in Washington, D.C. for the Child Survival Call to Action, a two day meeting to focus on the goal of ending preventable child deaths within a generation.

Our country's leadership on the Muskoka Initiative and our commitment to investing in child survival is something all Canadians can be proud of.