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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

June 7, 2010 at 9:00 AM

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Gates Foundation commits $1.5 billion for mother and child health

Posted by Kristi Heim

Calling on world health leaders to do more to prevent deaths of mothers and their newborn babies, Melinda Gates said today the Gates Foundation is pledging $1.5 billion over the next five years for family planning, maternal and child health and nutrition in developing countries.

It's the second largest donation in the foundation's history, after a $10 billion pledge over 10 years for vaccine development and delivery made in January, and indicates a new direction for the foundation, which has focused on diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. The foundation announced today initial grants of $94 million in India and $60 million in Ethiopia.


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon talks with Melinda Gates at the Women Deliver conference in Washington. Ban urged an end to the "silent scandal of women dying in childbirth."

Among the grants for India, Seattle-based PATH received $24.3 million to demonstrate a model for health services that will save lives of newborns and reduce illness and death of mothers.

Gates challenged the idea that "large numbers of maternal and child deaths are inevitable, or even acceptable, in poor countries."

"It is not that the world doesn't know how to save the 350,000 mothers and 3 million newborns who die every year," she said, speaking at a women's health conference in Washington D.C. "It is that we haven't tried hard enough."

Gates said she would make the health of women and children her personal priority as co-chair of the world's largest charitable foundation. The foundation will alter its model from one focused on specialized diseases to a more integrated approach.

Women and children "aren't conditions or procedures or treatment models," she said. "They are human beings."

Over the past 30 years, the overall picture has been improving, Gates said, citing recent studies from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and collaborators in Australia that found the number of women dying from pregnancy-related causes has dropped by more than 35 percent -- from more than 500,000 annually in 1980 to about 343,000 in 2008.

She called the next several months "a critical window of opportunity to secure new global action," as Canada will urge donor countries to endorse a major maternal and child health initiative when it hosts the G8 summit in Ontario later this month.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also speaking at the conference, said women's health "must be front and center in the push to meet the Millennium Development Goals," and are among the most cost effective investments for future generations.

According to the UW study of maternal mortality in 181 countries, developing nations have made substantial progress, particularly Egypt, China, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

Nearly 80 percent of all maternal deaths are concentrated in 21 countries, and six countries account for more than half of them. Maternal death rates are highest in India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The death rates also rose in a few high-income countries, including the United States, though changes in reporting practices may have contributed to the increase. (Looking at maternal mortality rates globally, the U.S. currently ranks number 39, between Macedonia and Lithuania.)

"We haven't made as much progress as we should have, especially since so many solutions are simple and just need to be available to all women and children," said Steve Gloyd, executive director of Seattle-based nonprofit Health Alliance International.

Gloyd, also a professor and associate chair in UW's Department of Global Health, said the funding should help strengthen the ability of governments to provide "much-needed basic health services."

"Training more health workers in a full package of services for women will be essential" for it to succeed, he said.

Gates said family planning could reduce deaths of mothers by 30 percent and newborns by 20 percent, but more than 200 million women have no access to contraception.

The largest of Gates initial grants, $38.7 million, is going to North Carolina-based Family Health International to develop cost-effective ways to increase access to voluntary contraception in poor urban areas of India.

"As a woman, I can't imagine being denied access to the tools I need to plan," she said. "It is my basic right to be able to choose when to have children."

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