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Jordan's queen calls deaths of newborns, mothers an outrage

Monarch thanks Harper for support

TORONTO - The deaths of millions of mothers and newborns every year is an outrage and an injustice that has no place in the world's shared humanity, Queen Rania of Jordan said today.

The 43-year-old monarch of the tiny Middle East desert kingdom thanked Prime Minister Stephen Harper for sharing that outrage and spearheading efforts to improve child and maternal health.

Rania is a philanthropist and advocate for the rights of women and girls, particularly in the Arab world, but says her most important title is "mom" to her four children.

She was addressing the second day of the prime minister's international conference on child and maternal health that also features other high-profile guests such as the Aga Khan, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Melinda Gates and experts and politicians from around the globe.

Like so many others here, she noted the oft-repeated grim statistic of the conference: 2.9 million newborn babies die each year, including a million who die on their first day.

"These figures are more than a source of discontent; they are an outrage, an injustice and they have no place in our common humanity," she said.

"So thank you to Prime Minister Harper and the Canadian government for being discontented with the status quo."

Harper is trying to bolster support of 2010 G8 Muskoka Initiative, which aims to reduce the millions of yearly deaths of mothers, newborns and young children in developing countries.

The Harper government invested $2.8 billion in 2010 and the prime minister is expected to make a new funding announcement later today.

"The first Muskoka Initiative galvanized global support to reduce maternal and child mortality," Rania said.

Melinda Gates, one half of the philanthropic Gates Foundation, is to deliver the keynote address later today.

Earlier, the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the world's 15 million Shia Ismaili Muslims, also praised Harper for leadership on the issue, but said much more needs to be done.

"The truth is that our efforts have been insufficient and uneven," he said.

"At the same time we must avoid the risk of frustration that sometimes accompanies a moment of reassessment. Our challenge, as always, is to balance honest realism with helpful optimism."

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