Canadian International Development Agency

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Canada, like other industrialized countries, provides assistance to developing countries and countries in transition (such as the formerly communist nations of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union) in the form of goods, services, the transfer of knowledge and skills, and financial contributions. It also provides humanitarian relief to victims of emergencies and natural disasters worldwide.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is the federal government body that oversees and funds much of this work. With public and private sector partners in Canada and in developing countries, and with international organizations and agencies, CIDA supports foreign aid projects in more than one hundred of the poorest countries of the world. The aim of Canada's Official Development Assistance (ODA) is "sustainable development that will reduce poverty and contribute to a more secure, equitable, and prosperous world."

A wide range of development partners in Canadauniversities, church groups, nongovernmental organizations, cooperatives, and labor unionsalong with international organizations and the people and institutions of developing countries, play a vital role in the development of policy and in the planning and delivery of Canada's ODA. Their contribution is essential in providing the expertise, knowledge, and resources required for effective development.

CIDA's own professional and technical experts provide advice on highly specialized sectors such as food, nutrition, agriculture, rural development, cooperatives, fisheries, forestry, water management, the environment, health and population, education, energy and telecommunications, air transport, social communications, and the participation of women in development. CIDA's efforts are focused on six priority areas: basic human needs; women in development; infrastructure services; human rights, democracy, and good governance; private-sector development; and the environment. Canada commits 25 percent of its ODA to "basic human needs," which includes primary health care, basic education, family planning, nutrition, water and sanitation, and shelter. The agency focuses on work in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

CIDA believes that developing countries should take charge of their own health development and that development of knowledge and skills and the training of health professionals within these countries is a key element in enabling national governments to assume this leadership.

Canada began its foreign aid program soon after the Second World War. It was among the founding members of the 1950 Colombo Plan for co-operative economic and social development in South and Southeast Asia. In addition to funding, Canadian aid included bringing trainees on scholarships to Canada and sending technicians and skilled workers to developing countries.

The External Aid Office was created in 1960 to coordinate work with international agencies and nongovernmental organizations, to handle assistance programs, and to manage Canadian emergency aid efforts overseas.

In 1968 the External Aid Office's name was changed to the Canadian International Development Agency. The change reflected a philosophical change in Canada's relations with developing countries, with a desire to broaden the scope of international efforts beyond financial aid.

In 1996, CIDA issued its Strategy for Health, which recognized "the highest attainable standard of physical, mental, and reproductive health as a human right, an essential resource for everyday life, and a crucial investment for global prosperity, security, and equitable social development." CIDA pledged to support efforts to promote the development of sustainable national health systems, improve women's health and reproductive health, improve children's health, decrease malnutrition and eliminate micronutrient deficiencies, help prevent and control important and emerging pandemics, and introduce appropriate technologies and special initiatives. Top priority is given to strengthening national health systems and improving women's health and reproductive health.

The projects CIDA funds are diverse. For example, since the mid-1970s the agency has supported major water supply projects in northern Ghana. Thanks to CIDA's contribution of almost $140 million, 1.4 million Ghanaians living in the poorest regions of the country now have clean drinking water. CIDA has also provided $135 million to support HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) prevention, education, and care programs in developing countries since 1987.

Canada, through CIDA, is also a leading provider of supplements to children with vitamin A deficiency. More than 100 million children around the world under the age of five lack sufficient vitamin A, which puts them at an increased risk of becoming blind or dying from common childhood diseases. CIDA has played a major role in developing programs that fortify foods with this essential vitamin.

Over the last two decades, CIDA has also supported global immunization programs, contributing more than $165 million to immunization efforts in developing countries. Today, more than three-quarters of all the world's children have been immunized against the six preventable childhood diseases.

Despite these successes, Canada has never fulfilled its 1980 pledge to raise Official Development Assistance aid to 0.5 percent of the gross national product by the middle of the 1980s and to make all best efforts to reach 0.7 percent by 1990. Major cuts to development spending during the 1990s provoked criticism from many international development quarters. Today just 0.25 percent of Canada's GNP is devoted to development assistance.

Janet Hatcher Roberts

Maureen Johnson

(see also: Health Care Financing; International Health )


Busch, Paul F. (1990). Textbook of International Health. New York: Oxford University Press.

International Development Research Centre. Researching Health Care in Latin America. A Comparative Analysis of Health Care Reform in Argentina, Brazil, eds. S. Fleury, S. Belmartino, and E. Baris. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre.

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Werner, D., and Sanders, D. Questioning the Solution: The Politics of Primary Health Care and Child Survival. Palo Alto, CA: Heathwrights.

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Canadian International Development Agency