Will Melinda Gates’ family planning boost improve women’s health overall? | 


Chris Kleponis, AFP/Getty Images

Melinda Gates

Today, in London, Melinda Gates and a few big guns in the British government did a much-needed and celebrated thing — getting billions of dollars from the international community to fund family planning services for some 120 million women and girls.

The Guardian Rich countries pledge $2.6 billion for family planning in global south

TIME Melinda Gates Launches Global Crusade for Contraception

Yes, this is another one of those promises of foreign aid that rich countries seem to make all the time and then break later when you’re not paying attention. But it’s important to recognize they do keep some of these promises (see funding for AIDS, malaria and child vaccines over the past 10 years) and this one does appear to have momentum.

Improved access to contraception has been estimated to reduce maternal mortality by a third. Providing women with greater control over reproduction is widely regarded as fundamental to empowering women, and as a basic human rights issue. Finally, the public does seem a bit more worried about global population growth these days.

So this campaign — largely led by Melinda Gates, against her church — may indeed represent a significant turning point for family planning and for maternal health worldwide.

But the question some raise, usually those way in the back of the room without access to the microphone or TV cameras, is if this is actually good for women’s health overall. Continue reading

Melinda Gates says family planning should not be controversial | 

By Keith Seinfeld, KPLU


Chris Kleponis, AFP/Getty Images

Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates is promoting access to contraceptives around the world, and urging everyone to believe it’s not a controversial step.

She’s co-hosting a global summit on Wednesday in London, along with the British government.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hopes to overcome religious and cultural resistance by saying birth control is simply one option that women want.

The foundation says simply: “There is no controversy.” And, it has created a website called, where women can share stories of how birth control changed their lives.

Enter the Catholic Church

However, when the Catholic Church and some Muslim groups are actively campaigning against it, and when some U.S. states are blocking all funding for Planned Parenthood, saying birth control is not controversial might seem implausible.

Here’s how Melinda Gates explained her position, as a Catholic, on CNN last week:

“To me the contraceptive piece is not controversial. My roots, part of why I do what I do in the foundation, comes from that incredible social justice upbringing I had, this belief that all lives, all lives have equal value.”

Gates made a similar point on the Colbert Report, telling Stephen Colbert, “We’ve made it controversial in the United States, and it doesn’t need to be. In fact 90 percent of Americans say they find contraceptives morally acceptable. But, because we’ve made it controversial, it’s come off the global health agenda.” Continue reading

Contraception could cut global maternal death toll by one-third | 

The New York Times reports:

A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University shows that fulfilling unmet contraception demand by women in developing countries could reduce global maternal mortality by nearly a third, a potentially great improvement for one of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

The study, published on Tuesday in The Lancet, a British science journal, comes ahead of a major family planning conference in London organized by the British government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that is an attempt to refocus attention on the issue. It has faded from the international agenda in recent years, overshadowed by efforts to combat AIDS and other infectious diseases, as well as by ideological battles.

Quandary for women: Contraceptive use vs HIV risk in Africa | 

Flickr, subcomandanta

Mother and child, Ethiopia

Researchers at the University of Washington have reported some highly problematic findings regarding a common method of birth control in eastern and southern Africa.

They are problematic in that they indicate a popular injectable hormone, Depo-Provera, used by perhaps 140 million women worldwide (and often in poor settings) signficantly raises a woman’s risk of HIV infection.

But they were also problematic in that the evidence for this alarming claim is somewhat weak and inconclusive, meaning it could be wrong.

That’s science. But the net effect right now could be that women will choose to give up one form of known health protection — contraception — to protect against a still hypothetical threat. Continue reading