Melinda Gates’ New Crusade: Investing Billions in Women’s Health

May 8, 2012 • Family Planning, Reproductive Health, Daily Email Recap

You may recall the Daily Email of April 6th, 2012, which provided a video link to a speech given by Melinda Gates, in which she announced her commitment to putting contraception back on the global development agenda. Below, we have a further report on Ms. Gates’ initiative, written by the talented Michelle Goldberg. Goldberg is a senior contributing writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast, and is also a past winner of the the Population Institute’s Global Media Award for Best Book (The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power & the Future of the World).


Melinda Gates’ New Crusade: Investing Billions in Women’s Health 

May 7, 2012 1:00 AM EDT

She plans to use the Gates Foundation’s billions to revolutionize contraception worldwide. The Catholic right is pushing back. Is she ready for the political firestorm ahead?
In the 12 years since Melinda Gates and her husband, Bill, created the Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic organization, she has done a lot of traveling. A reserved woman who has long been wary of the public glare attached to the Gates name, she comes alive, her associates say, when she’s visiting the foundation’s projects in remote corners of the world. “You get her out in the field with a group of women, sitting on a mat or under a tree or in a hut, she is totally in her element, totally comfortable,” says Gary Darmstadt, director of family health at the foundation’s global health program.

Visiting vaccine programs in sub-Saharan Africa, Gates would often ask women at remote clinics what else they needed. Very often, she says, they would speak urgently about birth control.

“Women sitting on a bench, 20 of them, immediately they’ll start speaking out and saying, ‘I wish I had that injection I used to get,'” says Gates. “‘I came to this clinic three months ago, and I got my injection. I came last week, and I couldn’t get it, and I’m here again.'”

They were talking about Depo-Provera, which is popular in many poor countries because women need to take it only four times a year, and because they can hide it, if necessary, from unsupportive husbands. As Gates discovered, injectable contraceptives, like many other forms of birth control, are frequently out of stock in clinics in the developing world, a result of both funding shortages and supply-chain problems.

Women would tell her that they’d left their farms and walked for hours, sometimes with children in tow, often without the knowledge of their husbands, in their fruitless search for the shot. “I was just stunned by how vociferous women were about what they wanted,” she says.

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