Originally posted on Seattle Times
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.
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 also said she would make the health of women and children her personal priority as co-chair of the world's largest charitable foundation.
Gates cited 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 in the past 30 years -- 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.
According to the 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.)
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.
"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."