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Harper announces $150M in aid for moms and kids during Senegal visit

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper hosts the Canada-European Union Summit in Toronto on Sept. 26, 2014. HANDOUT/PMO

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced Canada will contribute $150 million over five years to help improve the health of women and children in developing countries.

Speaking at a clinic Sunday in Senegal, Harper said the federal government’s contribution to the Micronutrient Initiative will help deliver an estimated 400 million vitamin A and zinc supplements per year to kids under the age of five.

He said helping improve the health of mothers, newborns and children is the “top international-development priority” for his government.

“We’re acutely aware of how much work remains to be done to improve maternal and child health, and we will keep raising this issue at every opportunity in Canada and on the world stage,” said Harper, who was in the west African country to attend the summit of la Francophonie, a network of 57 French-speaking countries and jurisdictions.

“There is simply too much at stake to remain silent. We know how many lives can be saved, we know how to do it, and so friends we must get it done.”

He said the Canadian-based Micronutrient Initiative, an international non-profit organization, has helped save four million lives in its battle against vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

The government said the investment announced Sunday will increase the production of iodized salt to reach an estimated 120 million people each year.

It will also allow the organization to administer iron and folic acid supplements to approximately 80 per cent of pregnant women in communities targeted by the program, primarily sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Harper said he provided the program’s eight-billionth vitamin A capsule Sunday to a child at the clinic.

“This situation is particularly crucial in these countries of la Francophonie that are afflicted by the highest rates of malnutrition and infant mortality in the world,” he said.

Eighty per cent of the $150 million is part of a $3.5-billion fund the Conservatives announced last May at a summit in Toronto aimed at financing Canada’s maternal, newborn and child health strategy from 2016-2020.

On Friday, Harper earmarked $500 million for a program aimed at providing vaccines for impoverished children around the world. That money also comes from the $3.5-billion fund.