By DENISE GRADY
Published: June 7, 2010
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it would spend $1.5 billion over the next five years on maternal and child health, family planning and nutrition programs in developing countries, representing a new emphasis for the foundation, whose health efforts so far have focused on infectious diseases, vaccines and H.I.V. and AIDS.
In a speech Monday at a conference in Washington, D.C., Melinda Gates said that pregnancy and childbirth often “end in tragedy” in poor countries, but that most of the deaths could be prevented at a “stunningly” low cost. “The world must come together to save women’s and children’s lives,” she said.
In a telephone interview, Ms. Gates said the foundation was inspired to move in this direction by signs that the problems could be solved. She cited Malawi as an example, noting that though it is one of the poorest countries in Africa, it has begun to lower childhood death rates and to take on maternal mortality as well. She said she met one woman from a remote village whose baby had been in a breech position and who almost certainly would have died if she had not been taken by health workers to a clinic to give birth.
The Gates Foundation, with assets of about $35.2 billion, has already spent $10 billion on global health projects, including $4.5 billion on vaccines. The foundation said in January that it would spend at least $10 billion more on vaccines over the next decade. So far, it has already spent about $1.8 billion on maternal, newborn and child health. Ms. Gates said much of the next $1.5 billion would go to programs in India, Ethiopia and other countries where mothers and children have relatively high death rates.