At the recent Women Deliver Conference the Gates Foundation announced it will invest $1.5 billion over the next five years to support maternal and child health, family planning, and nutrition programs in developing countries
To see Melinda Gates stellar presentation at the conference click here
Giving away large sums of money away to as to have the maximum impact is almost as demanding as earning the money in the first place. International health is littered with examples of poor investments, not because donors don’t want to succeed but because they are buffeted from all sides and lobbyists rarely use the most objective information.
The January 2009 Bixby Forum on the World in 2050 happened to coincide with the circulation of Bill Gates first Annual Letter about the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the letter Mr. Gates wrote about his interest in reducing infant mortality as a route to slowing rapid population growth. Some of the participants at the meeting began a correspondence with Mr. Gates and his senior staff. The discussions were private but the take away message was to respectfully point out that while lowering infant mortality is an unfettered good, slowing population growth also demands that poor and illiterate people are given easy access to family planning backed up by accurate and respectfully transmitted information on side effects.
Mr Gates welcomed outside perspectives and private discussions continued over almost a year. Many factors necessarily feed any decision to spend $1.5 billion, but it is true that Malinda Gates’ speech reflects the thinking of the experts at the Bixby Forum much more closely than Bill’s first Foundation letter.
Ms. Gates said in her remarks:
“A woman’s first need is planning her family, and therefore it has to mark the beginning of the continuum of care. When I talk to women in developing countries, one of the first things they bring up is their desire to plan the number and timing of their pregnancies.
As a woman, I can’t imagine being denied access to the tools I need to plan. It is my basic right to be able to choose when to have children.
When women have the right to make that choice, we are able to make other important choices in our lives – about where we want to live, what we want to do for a living, and who we want to marry. Why in the world should any woman be prevented from doing what’s best for her health and for the health of her children?
Yet, right now, more than 200 million women want to use contraceptives but don’t have access. If they did, their families would be healthier. Experts agree that fulfilling the unmet need for family planning would reduce maternal deaths by at least 30 percent, and newborn deaths by 20 percent.
In many countries, family planning has become a lightning rod for controversy. But it doesn’t have to be.
The essence of family planning is the fulfillment of a desire that all families have: to make a choice about when they want to have children. There are safe and effective tools that help a woman plan when to get pregnant, and when not to. It is reckless to prevent women from using them.”