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  • His Highness the Aga Khan delivers a keynote address at the Summit on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, organized by the Government of Canada.
    AKDN / Zahur Ramji
Aga Khan urges innovative approaches to maternal and child care, praises Canada's leadership

Toronto, Canada, 29 May 2014 — His Highness the Aga Khan today praised Canada’s global leadership in efforts to improve maternal, neonatal and child health and stressed the importance of innovative and community-based approaches in meeting the challenge which he described as “one of the highest priorities on the global development agenda.”

The Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and founder of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) made the remarks in a speech at the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) Summit in Toronto, Canada – a three-day high level gathering of heads of state and top health officials, organised by Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper.

“Leadership and partnership – those are words that come quickly to mind as I salute our hosts today – and as I greet the distinguished leaders and partners in this audience,” said the Aga Khan. “I am here, as well, because of my enormous respect for the leadership of the Government of Canada in addressing this challenge,” he added.

The Summit, “Saving Every Mother, Saving Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach”, brings together a number of partners in the global fight to address maternal, newborn and child health in developing countries. It follows the June 2010 G8 summit (held in Muskoka, Ontario), when Canada led G8 and non-G8 countries to commit CAD $7.3B (for 2010 to 2015) to MNCH.

The “Muskoka Initiative” aims to accelerate progress towards the achievement of two of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed to in 2000: MDG 4 (reduce child mortality by two-thirds from 1990 to 2015) and MDG 5 (reduce maternal mortality by three quarters from 1990 to 2015).

In his address to the Summit, the Aga Khan said that in order to be effective, the approaches to health care should be long-term, community-oriented and use innovative financial models that make health care provision sustainable. He also underlined the need to focus on the broad spectrum of health care, not only high-impact primary, but also secondary and tertiary care and to look at health care within the context of a broader development agenda.

He emphasised the need to reach those who are hardest to reach by using new telecommunications tools in transmitting diagnostic information such as high quality radiological images and lab results.

The Aga Khan cited the AKDN’s involvement in the remote Badakhshan region of Afghanistan where the network has built up, virtually from scratch, a system that today includes nearly 400 health workers, 35 health centres and two hospitals, serving over 400,000 people. Its community midwifery school has graduated over 100 young women. He noted that the effort has greatly reduced infant mortality and child-birth related deaths.

While mentioning considerable progress in the maternal and child care area, the Aga Khan also cautioned that efforts to improve maternal and neonatal care were often uneven and that much more needed to be done.

“For most of the world, science has completely transformed the way life begins – and the risks associated with childbirth. But enormous gaps still exist. These gaps are not the result of fate – they are not inevitable. They can be changed – and changed dramatically,” he said.

For more information:

Jennifer Pepall
Aga Khan Foundation Canada
The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat
199 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, Canada, K1N 1K6 Phone: (613) 237-2532
Fax: (613) 567-2532
Toll free number: 1-800-267-2532


The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has been engaged in MNCH for nearly a century. The Kharadar maternity home in Karachi, for example, was established in 1924. Today, the Network’s MNCH activities span 12 countries in Central Asia (Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan), South Asia (Pakistan, India), Sub-Saharan Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, and Mali) and the Middle East (Syria, Egypt).

Canada has supported AKDN’s MNCH activity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Mali. In Afghanistan, Canada has funded programmes for the construction of the new Bamyan Provincial Hospital, as well as the training of health professionals and the implementation of community health programmes. In Mali, Mozambique, Pakistan, Tanzania, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, it has helped strengthen AKDN’s health system by improving service delivery, training health professionals, and delivering community-based health promotion and prevention campaigns.