TORONTO -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper hopes an international conference on child and maternal health to be held in Toronto next month will help the world stay focused on what he calls "a great cause."

Harper says Canada remains committed to making progress on the issue, despite the end of a program on the matter looming in 2015.

Harper launched the Muskoka Initiative at the G8 summit hosted by Canada in 2010 and intended it to help address some sobering health figures in poor countries: the hundreds of thousands of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth each year and the millions of children who perish before age five.

The initiative was set up to target two of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals that were found to be the most lacking -- reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.

But as figures and information provided by the government have shown, the world is not on track to make the progress it was hoping for on those two development goals by 2015.

Harper says the upcoming three-day Toronto summit, to run May 28-30, will help the international community move closer to those goals.

"We don't want to stand idly by while women and children around the world die for lack of things that are really just very basic, inexpensive remedies that we take for granted," Harper said Monday at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital.

"That's why we're holding the conference, and we want to push forward until we achieve some of those development goals that the United Nations has set."

Harper added that reducing maternal, newborn and child mortality is the "centre piece" of his government's international development policy.

"Why are we so engaged in this? Well there's really two things -- first of all this is obviously something we care passionately about because it is the right thing to do," he said. "And what we've got in front of us are things that are doable, where we can achieve real positive results for our fellow human beings."

World Vision President Dave Toycen, who was part of a group who met with Harper in Toronto on Monday, said the conference being hosted by Canada will be "critical" to planning next steps in ending preventable child and maternal deaths in the future.

"There are still 6.6 million children dying every year before their fifth birthday and 258,000 women who die in pregnancy and childbirth," said Toycen.

"Canada must keep these children and mothers front and centre in its own development work and in the minds of global leaders as we look beyond 2015. If we don't reach them, we cannot end these senseless deaths."

The upcoming summit called "Saving Every Woman, Every Child," will include United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, World Health Organization director-general Margaret Chan, and Melinda Gates among its international participants.