July 11, 2012
Contraception Gets Big Funding From Bill Gates’ Foundation
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Billionaire philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation are set to unveil funding for a campaign to improve access to contraception in the developing world, a cause that has been near and dear to their hearts for more than a decade.
The Gates´ have been supporting contraception since first mulling over special causes to support in the mid 1990s. And Melinda, who told Reuters she and her husband are committed to this campaign, said the funding would be “on par” with the foundation´s other big programs, which include the fight against AIDS, malaria and TB.
The exact amount of the funding will be revealed at a summit of world leaders and aid organizations in London today. The London Summit is looking to raise $4 billion to expand access to contraception for 120 million women in the developing world by 2020.
As many as 220 million women in the developing world who do not want to get pregnant do not have reliable access to contraception, according to figures from the United Nations.
The Gates Foundation has so far pledged $1.4 billion since the fund was set up a decade ago, $750 million of which was pledged in January of this year.
“Because we didn't have contraception or family planning on the agenda we weren't putting new money into it,” said Mrs. Gates. “We weren't saying this is a priority. So this is our moment in time to say this is a priority and we need to fund it.”
But doing so has drawn critical opposition from Catholic groups, at least in the US, which argue that contraception and abortion as part of the same issue.
However, “it's far less controversial than people make it,” said Mrs. Gates, citing a Gallup poll three months ago in the US. “Top of the poll was: 90 percent of Americans think contraceptives are morally acceptable. 82 percent of Catholics think contraceptives are morally acceptable. To me that's not controversial.”
“It's when you start to broaden the agenda that you find the controversy,” she adds. A Catholic herself, Mrs. Gates is attempting to defuse any controversies by highlighting the health and individual choice aspects of the mission. She said that throughout her travels, one of the most common topics for women is reliable contraceptives.
“We´re not talking about abortion. We´re not talking about population control,” she said at the Berlin TED talk in April. “What I´m talking about is giving women the power to save their lives, to save their children´s lives and to give their families the best possible future.”
The Gates Foundation has set up a website called No-Controversy.com so that people have an outlet to share their personal stories about birth control and to pledge support for the crusade.
But veterans of the birth-control wars acknowledge that the foundation may be in for much worse criticism than it has faced in the past.
Being targeted by American culture was one of the main reasons the foundation pulled away from supporting birth control in the early days, and some insiders remain concerned that fallout from the public will rise again, according to Steven Sinding, former director general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and one of a small cadre of experts who never stopped urging the Gates Foundation to take up the cause again.
Catholic groups and anti-abortion websites like LifeSiteNews have already branded Mrs. Gates, a Judas to her faith, and accused her of continuing to support an issue that remains a “blatant attack on Catholic sexual morality.”
But given the wide support for birth control in the developing world, even among many Catholics, the foundation should be able to move forward easily as long as it doesn´t show support for abortion, Duff Gillespie, a family planning expert at Johns Hopkins University, told Sandi Doughton at the Boston Herald.
Mrs. Gates acknowledged that the majority of the funding for the campaign will not come from the Gates Foundation, but she believes the countries in greatest need for better family planning have both the means and the political will.
“There are at least six African countries today that are having large economic growth... Even a place like Ethiopia, it's growing so, as its economy grows, it can start to put more money into health," she said.
Goodluck Jonathan, president of Nigeria, one of Africa´s most populous countries, has supported birth control to head off a population crisis that the UN forecasts will see the impoverished nation grow from 160 million to 400 million people in under 40 years.
Although, he noted, it will remain a challenge, despite the government´s support of the birth control initiative.
The foundation is keeping quiet on the level of new funding Mrs. Gates will announce at the London summit. With an endowment of more than $30 billion, the philanthropy has pledged $1 billion a year for childhood vaccines, its top priority. Observers don´t expect to see numbers like that for family planning, but do anticipate a sizable contribution.
The foundation´s most valuable contribution may be its willingness to stand up for the long-neglected cause, Sinding said.
“The fact that the Gates Foundation is not only providing financial support but also speaking out on the importance of family planning has an influence way out of proportion to the amount of money they provide.”