Gates Foundation contraceptive funding will save lives, improve health for millions
Bill and Melinda Gates are not looking for a political or religious fight with their plan to spend $1 billion increasing poor women's access to contraceptives. Nor should they get one.
Seattle Times Editorial
SUPPORTERS of women's health ought to cheer the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's plan to train its considerable philanthropic power on increasing poor women's access to contraceptives.
Targeting $1 billion over eight years toward this effort underscores the critical role of family planning in the international battle to reduce poverty and improve maternal health.
Catholic leaders view the move as a challenge to the church's ban on artificial birth control. Social conservatives aren't likely to be wild about it either. Bill and Melinda Gates are not looking for a political or religious fight over women's rights; they're looking to add their resources to efforts to improve the lives and health of women and children.
A recent study by Johns Hopkins University shows that getting contraception to women in developing countries who want it could reduce the number of women who die while pregnant — or shortly thereafter — by nearly a third.
Maternal deaths have declined by a third since 1990, according to the World Health Organization, but the challenge to keep pregnant women from dying remains. Women who can plan births can have healthier pregnancies and their babies have a greater chance of surviving childhood.
High fertility rates in developing countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, exacerbate problems already caused by poverty, food and water shortages, poor health outcomes and other problems. Families in these countries would certainly fare better economically and healthwise if they had the power to decide about bearing children.
International population-assistance funds that went to family planning fell to just 6 percent in 2008, down from 55 percent in 1995, while spending on HIV/AIDS represented 74 percent of the total in 2008, up from just 9 percent in 1995, according to Rachel Nugent, a professor of global health at the University of Washington, who cited figures from the United Nations Population Fund.
Family planning has been on the back burner of the Gates Foundation while it trained its considerable philanthropic might on vaccines and other strategies to combat disease and high childhood mortality. This significant shift was a decision based on the Gates' understanding that struggling families depending on children to help the family survive would not choose to have fewer children until they were sure more of their children would survive childhood.