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Melinda French Gates, London Summit on Family Planning: Thank You and Welcome and Announcement

July 11, 2012

Good afternoon. This summit is an incredible moment in time, and I am thrilled to be joined on this panel by such an inspiring group of world leaders.

I would like to thank David Cameron for co-sponsoring this summit. The United Kingdom’s steadfast commitment to global development in tough economic times is inspiring—and it serves as a powerful example to countries everywhere.

I am grateful to all my fellow panelists. I am optimistic about what we can do together because you are deeply committed to empowering women in your countries. We are here to support the plans that you created and that you will execute. Your leadership shows that family planning is a high priority for developing countries, and that is the key to success.

Family planning is a priority for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, too. That is why I am announcing today that we are increasing our investment in family planning by $560 million over the next eight years. That amounts to a doubling of our current investment, bringing the total figure to more than $1 billion from now until 2020.

RETURN ON INVESTMENT

I want to explain why we had no hesitation about making this new investment.

Our foundation’s mission is to help all people live a healthy and productive life. To do that, we have to be sticklers for return on investment. We have an obligation to put our foundation’s money to the absolute highest and best use in service to our mission.

So we have devoted a lot of time and effort to studying family planning programs. The data about both the breadth and depth of their impact is extremely compelling. Helping women gain access to contraceptives saves lives. It improves the health of mothers and children. It increases children’s school attendance. It leads to more prosperous families. At the national level, it has even been linked to GDP growth.

INNOVATION

In short, there are many reasons to be confident that this is a great investment, but I want to focus on one in particular: the partners’ commitment to innovation with impact.

Bill and I have always been big believers in innovation. It drew us to computer technology many years ago.

We created our foundation when we started to see that the innovation all around us wasn’t touching the lives of poor people. We were convinced that if the energy fueling the world’s cutting-edge innovators were devoted to health and development in the poor countries, it would be transformative.

We have been working with our partners on innovating for the poor for more than a decade. Today, we’re joining you in innovating for women. This is new, and exciting.

Innovation comes in many forms. It can involve researching and developing a new solution. It can involve redesigning an existing solution so that it’s easier for people to use. It can involve a clever way to deliver a solution to hard-to-reach areas. Because innovation is so multi-faceted, it works best when people from many sectors collaborate. This kind of collaboration is happening here today.

I want to give you some concrete examples of innovations that are coming out of this summit, but they all stem from one overarching principle. When you think about family planning from the perspective of the women who want to use it, everything changes. Your basic assumptions and long-standing policies begin to shift.

For example, many family planning programs consider a health clinic that has any form of contraceptive “stocked.” They may only have condoms and available and consider that success. That may make sense if you’re thinking only about the supply side. But many women I talk to tell me they simply can’t negotiate condom-use with their partners.

One woman said she couldn’t ask her husband to use a condom. I asked why, and she said that asking would make him think she had HIV, or was worried he did. Now countries are changing their policies so that clinics offer women many options—including injectables and implants and IUDs—so they can use contraceptives the way they want, when they want.

Even so, many women have a hard time travelling to the clinic four times a year for injections, which is the preferred method in much of Africa. Yesterday, I talked about Sadi, a woman I met in Niger who has to walk 15 kilometers for her injection. But what if she didn’t have to travel to the clinic? Pfizer is testing a brand new version of Depo, which they are putting in a uniject device to make it more convenient for health workers to administer in women’s homes. This is the uniject. It’s a high-quality product. It’s effective, it’s safe, and it could help clear away the obstacles that prevent women from having access to contraceptives.

Longer-term, more innovative research and development work needs to be done to create new contraceptives that meet more of women’s needs. We need contraceptives that start working immediately. We need contraceptives with fewer side effects. We need contraceptives that last longer. It has been many years since the R&D community developed new contraceptives for women, and we need new momentum behind this priority.

No matter what types of contraceptives are available, countries need to be able to afford them. Buying contraceptives in a more coordinated way will help manufacturers bring their prices down. That’s why Merck’s announcement is so exciting: It’s proof that this approach works. Merck’s rebate translates into 400,000 additional women who will have access to contraceptive right away. But we cannot stop there. We must continue to help our partners provide affordable contraceptives at the necessary scale and bring new partners into the market to reduce prices further.

If you put these innovations together, the future looks more promising. Women get the contraceptives they need, when they need them. As a result, they will have more opportunities, raise healthy children, and build more prosperous families and communities.

In the future, women will thrive.

CONCLUSION

This is an enormous undertaking. We cannot be shy about admitting that. We are trying to do something very ambitious.

But the right partners are engaged. And the strategy is right, too. We are committed to supporting the leadership of the developing countries where the work is being done. We are committed to innovating constantly to multiply our impact.

It is a difficult task, but it is urgent. I am optimistic because we are here together. And I am optimistic because hundreds of millions of women desperately want to make a better life for themselves and their children. If we listen to them, I know we will succeed.

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