*By Sara Schulz, World Vision Canada
I'm hoping not to give birth in Toronto, where I've travelled this week on important business. Two years ago, our son arrived several weeks ahead of schedule, so there's a chance that the little girl I'm carrying could also come early.
I want to be home in Ottawa for the birth, with my husband and the team of midwives who've cared for us through the pregnancy. Yet while these things are very important to me, they are, at the end of the day, just preferences. My worst-case scenario is no worse than checking into one of Toronto's hospitals, and being cared for by an expert team of doctors and nurses. My every need would be met.
This is something I keep in mind, as I take my seat at a critical international summit on child and maternal health in Toronto: Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arm's Reach. I'm here with national leaders and experts from all over the world, who have travelled to this summit at Canada's invitation.
I have come to represent the moms, babies and young children on our planet who get none of the healthcare I'll receive, in any of my scenarios. They live in places such as Afghanistan or South Sudan, where government services can be inadequate, infrastructure minimal, and villages geographically isolated.
Health clinics are few and far between. Children and mothers can't get the basic yet life-saving care they need. I'm talking about something as simple as a prenatal or postnatal checkup, or basic health support during labour. Despite huge global progress on child and maternal health since Canada rallied the world at the G8 Muskoka Summit four years ago, 287,000 women still die during pregnancy or childbirth each year.
An unthinkable 6.6 million children don't make it to their fifth birthdays.
Lack of access to health services is only one challenge. Even when care is within walking distance, many children and mothers are turned away because they have no official identification to present. I think about my two-year-old son's arrival, and birth certificate and health card we received almost immediately. It was clear to me that Canada knew my son existed, and would receive health services, checkups and vaccinations for the rest of his life. It breaks my heart to think of the millions of children around the world who aren't counted by or even visible to their own governments. It's as though their lives aren't even worth documenting on a piece of paper and logging into a database.
As I think ahead to my new baby's first few years of life, I contemplate the many checkups she'll have. At first, she'll be no more than a tiny bundle, doing little besides sleeping and eating. But as the months go by, she'll start eating a variety of different nutritious foods. We'll celebrate benchmarks like reaching, rolling, sitting, walking, running, climbing and talking.
It's tragic to think that for thousands of the world's children, the first checkup is at a World Vision emergency feeding centre, once their lives are already hanging in the balance. The threat is even greater for children who are invisible not just to governments, but within their own communities, because they're disabled, orphaned, or members of a visible minority.
It is possible to make a difference. Thanks to funds pledged by Canada and other countries at the G8 Muskoka Summit in 2010, child and maternal death rates have come down faster than ever before. In Tanzania, for instance, World Vision has trained community volunteers to teach mothers about nutrition and breastfeeding. Even in places where health clinics are scarce, these volunteers provide a critical link between the actual health professionals and families of young children.
The existing funds for child and maternal health last only until 2015. We must not pull back, but instead, reach further than ever before to help children and their mothers. I've come to the Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arm's Reach Summit to do my part to help that happen. Canada must keep children and mothers front and centre in its own development work -- but also in the minds of the global leaders assembled here.
Whether or not I give birth in Toronto, I know that both my baby and I will be well. Now it's time to give a piece of that assurance to children and mothers everywhere. No one should be uncounted or invisible. It's time to see, to count, to care.
Sara Schulz is World Vision Canada's senior policy advisor on child health. She will be participating in this week's Saving Every Woman Every Child Summit in Toronto.