Canadian aid groups say a pledge to put $7.3 billion towards improving the health of women and children over the next five years is a step forward, but stops well short of the support that is needed in the developing world.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the funding Friday night, after meeting with his G8 colleagues on the first day of the Huntsville, Ont.,-hosted summit.

Canada offered the single largest contribution of G8 countries of $2.85 billion over a five-year period. That was a boost of $1.1 billion in new money from Ottawa.

In total, G8 countries offered $5 billion in funding, while a group of non-G8 countries and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation offered an additional $2.3 billion. Harper said it was a "historic commitment," but acknowledged that donor countries were "cautious" in what they offered.

The communique put forth by G8 members at the end of the Huntsville summit says their collective commitment could help save the lives of 1.3 million young children and 64,000 women, according to estimates from the World Health Organization and World Bank. It would also help provide family planning to 12 million couples.

Several Canadian aid groups had worked in concert to push the government for a much larger investment of $24 billion for the child-and-maternal health cause. They got less than one-third of what they wanted, but still saw progress in what was accomplished.

David Morley, the president and CEO of Save the Children Canada, admitted the investment "isn't the game-changer that we thought it could be. But it isn't over yet, either," he said.

Morley said it wasn't long ago that child and maternal health wasn't even on the government's radar.

"Six months ago, people weren't talking about the women and children who die pointless deaths," Morley told CTV.ca during an interview in Toronto on Saturday afternoon.

"So now they're talking about it," he said.

Meg French of UNICEF Canada said the money "has the potential to make an immediate impact in reducing child and maternal mortality, but more is needed from the international community."

At World Vision, president Dave Toycen concurs that the pledge from Ottawa -- though not as significant as he and other organizations had hoped for -- is a change for the better.

"I see it as a really strong beginning for Canada," Toycen told CTV.ca, saying that it appears the Canadian government is "clearly engaged in this issue."

Toycen said the Canadian government set an example with its disproportionately-high pledge while "other countries just haven't stepped up to the plate."

Both Save the Children Canada and World Vision were part of a coalition that approached the Canadian government in advance of the Muskoka G8 summit with the intent of pushing them towards investing in the health of women and children.

Ottawa was also under pressure to get the G8 to help the world meet United Nations-stipulated Millennium Development Goals that seek to meet key reductions in child and maternal mortality rates by 2015.

But other groups were not as positive about the money that was pledged at the G8.

Oxfam spokesperson Mark Fried cautioned that the G8 could end up siphoning money from other needs to pay for its child-and-maternal health commitments.

"This year the headline is maternal health, last year it was food. With overall aid frozen, the G8 are just shuffling the same money around to different pots," Fried said in a statement released to media.

NDP Leader Jack Layton pointed out that the $1.1 billion in new money the Canadian government offered was similar to the amount of money it spent on security for the G8 and G20 summits this weekend.

With files from The Canadian Press