- Flickr, bnilsen
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation thinks safe sex isn’t as much fun as it should be.
At least, that seems to be the gist of one request for a grant application from the world’s largest philanthropy as part of its Grand Challenges Explorations program. One of the goals for this round is to develop a better condom – and by better they basically mean a condom that doesn’t suck.
“It is a bit unusual,” said Stephen Ward, the program officer with the Gates Foundation administering the project.
In its request for proposals, the foundation opens with a detailed description of the global production of condoms (15 billion units per year), usage (750 million) and a ‘steadily growing market.’ When used properly, the Gates Foundation notes, condoms can protect females from pregnancy and both partners from sexually transmitted infections like HIV. They are cheap, ubiquitous and a great example of a ‘multi-purpose prevention technology.’
“The one major drawback to more universal use of male condoms is the lack of perceived incentive for consistent use.”
Yeah, they suck. They’re no fun. Continue reading
Chris Kleponis, AFP/Getty Images
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
By Keith Seinfeld, KPLU
Chris Kleponis, AFP/Getty Images
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 No-Controversy.com, 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
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.
Stephen Colbert asks fellow Catholic Melinda Gates how she can support family planning and take the risk of going to hell as well as potentially making the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation into a “slut factory.”
Melinda holds her own, repeatedly refuses to take Colbert’s bait and makes the case for family planning. Here’s more info about the philanthropy’s upcoming events and plans in this arena from the Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog.
Here’s Geekwire’s take on the humorous interview.
Chris Kleponis, AFP/Getty Images
The data is clear: Improved family planning worldwide could have almost incomprehensible benefits on many fronts:
That last point — about how saving kids’ lives also reduces population growth and increases family incomes — may seem counter-intuitive to some, especially all you Malthusians, but it makes sense of you think about it.
Most poor families have kids to help out on the farm and have, say, ten because five will die. If kids stop dying, families have fewer kids. It’s a documented phenomenon worldwide.
So holy cow! What a three- or four-for-one deal this family planning could be for us!
That was the message Melinda Gates was putting out to the world last week, in a TEDxChange talk as well as through several posts on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s blog Impatient Optimists.
Yet it appears hardly anybody in the media paid much attention.
AllAfrica.com ran an op-ed from Melinda and my former Seattle PI colleague Joel Connelly wrote about it as well — from the perspective of a devout Catholic (like Melinda) who thinks his church is missing the boat when it comes to contraception and family planning.
The aid and development blogosphere also covered Gates’ talk, such as at UN Dispatch — which noted how poorly the international community is doing on this front — and the PSI blog Healthy Lives. I watched the TED talk but didn’t write about it. Mea culpa. But I have written about Melinda’s message on this front many times before.
I’m curious to know if, as it appears by doing a Google news search, the mainstream media almost totally ignored the talk. And why?
Flickr, UK Ministry of Defence
The Queen of England has bestowed an exalted honor on PATH’s top gizmo guy.
“She said global health was a rather big subject and must involve a lot of travel,” said Michael Free, chief of technology for PATH, who had in fact stopped off in London to be received by the Queen before embarking on a month-long trip of global health travel.
Last week, Free was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his team’s many inventions and innovative approaches aimed at helping solve health problems in the developing world. It’s not quite as prestigious as a Knighthood but better than a sharp poke in the helmet.
One of Free’s inventions was the single-use, auto-disabling syringe — a device now in common use worldwide, here in the U.S. as well, aimed at reducing the transmission of disease through accidental needle sticks.
But Free was also likely honored for his much broader and critical role in helping give birth to PATH in the 1970s.
How this British farm boy, raised in creamy Devonshire, ended up in Seattle working on some of the most innovative solutions to developing world health problems offers insight into the evolution of PATH and, to some extent, the entire field of global health.
“In the beginning, our approach was not well-received by either the public or private sectors,” said Free. “It was a bit out-of-the-box.”