• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged Wednesday during a U.N. summit on eradicating poverty that Tokyo will offer $8.5 billion over five years starting in 2011 to help improve the health of mothers and babies as well as education services in poor countries.

In a speech at the summit on the U.N. Millennium Development Goals on poverty reduction, he unveiled the “Kan Commitment” in health and education, an area in which progress on the 2000 MDG goals for achievement in 2015 lags far behind that in other sectors.

Kan said Tokyo will implement policies to achieve the health-related MDGs in line with his goal of realizing “a society in which human suffering is reduced to a minimum” through efforts to minimize “sources of misery such as disease, poverty and conflicts.” He has advocated the slogan domestically.

Japan will offer $5 billion over the five years to improve maternal and pediatric health services and to combat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria as well as international health threats such as the spread of new types of influenza.

“We make this contribution in order to save the lives of 680,000 mothers and 11.3 million children in cooperation with other partners,” Kan said.

As part of the $5 billion aid, Tokyo will contribute $800 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which Japan helped to found in 2002, at a conference on replenishing the fund next month, Kan said.

The fund is a global public-private partnership dedicated to attracting and disbursing additional resources to prevent and treat the three major infectious diseases.

Referring to his experience of tackling a scandal involving HIV-tainted blood products in Japan, in which an estimated 2,000 hemophiliacs were infected with the virus that causes AIDS, Kan said he has been “strongly interested” in the fight against various infectious diseases.

Kan shot to fame in 1996 when he was health minister for battling with bureaucrats to uncover hidden documents and pinning the blame for the scandal on the government.

He also proposed a new assistance model in maternal and child health called EMBRACE, an acronym for “ensure mothers and babies regular access to care,” and called on developing countries to adopt it.

The model is aimed at providing seamless and continued services to pregnant mothers and newborns with quality equipment and human resources by conducting regular checkups, improving access to hospitals and offering vaccinations.

The $5 billion aid includes Japan’s commitment during the Group of Eight summit in the Muskoka region of Canada in June to providing up to approximately $500 million from 2011 through 2015 to help improve maternal and newborn health in poor countries, according to a Japanese official.

In the area of education, Japan will offer $3.5 billion in aid to back comprehensive efforts to improve the educational environment for children under the “School for All” initiative. Tokyo aims at the provision of an education for all children, including those who have been marginalized and those living in conflict areas, Kan said.

“This assistance will provide a quality educational environment for at least 7 million children. Japan will also pay careful attention to postprimary education,” he said, adding that assistance for education “leads to the creation of jobs and social vitality.”

Under the initiative, Japan proposes a basic education assistance model that encourages “coordinated efforts among schools, communities and governments” to improve the learning environment.

The model covers improvement in the quality of teachers, school management, treatment of girls and disabled students, nutrition, sanitation and child physical fitness.

Kan also said Japan will host an international conference next year to strengthen coordination among such stakeholders as governments, international organizations and aid groups in offering educational assistance, as a followup of the U.N. summit on MDGs.

Following the speech, Kan told reporters that his message was well received by many participants at the summit and that their reaction reminded him of the fact that Japan’s assistance in the fields of health and education has been appreciated in the international community.

The eight-point MDGs include halving abject poverty by 2015 from 1990 levels, reducing the number of children who die before reaching their fifth birthday by two-thirds, improving maternal health and ensuring that primary education is made universal to all, halting the spread of HIV and promoting gender equality.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told a round-table session of the three-day MDGs summit through Wednesday that Tokyo is promoting the concept of “human security,” which focuses on the protection and capacity building of each individual, to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in poor countries.

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