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Melinda French Gates, London Summit on Family Planning: Transcript of Remarks (Evening Session)

July 11, 2012

Well, today is an absolutely incredible moment in time. And I’m thrilled to join this panel of luminaries on this topic. I have to start, of course, because I want to thank the UK government. Prime Minister Cameron’s leadership, Secretary Mitchell are both just really something. This day wouldn’t happen without that kind of leadership. And I think in these times of tough economic times, to show that kind of leadership in global development is going to serve as very, very powerful examples for so many other countries. But I’m also incredibly grateful to my panelists. Because the real work happens on the ground in your countries, the partnerships that you’re already creating on the ground with partners who are carrying out this work and have very concrete plans to make it a reality, that’s what is deciding about what’s going to go forward after today. Your leadership shows that family planning is a very high priority, and we know that the key to success is leadership, and leadership on this issue for women. Family planning, as you’ve heard today, is quite a priority for our foundation now.  So what I’d like to announce today is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be increasing our family planning investment by a new five hundred and sixty million dollar commitment between now and 2020.

That amounts to a doubling of what we’re doing in family planning, and it means that we’ll spend in total over one billion dollars between now and 2020. And I’d like to explain for a moment why Bill and I, when we discussed this at home, had absolutely no hesitation about making this decision. Our foundation’s purpose is to help all people on the planet live a healthy and a productive life. And we feel that we have an incredible responsibility with the resources we have. And we are a real stickler on investments because we want to use the Foundation’s money to this high purpose and service of that mission. So we’ve devoted a lot of time and effort to studying family planning programs and what’s really gone on in this field for the last thirty, forty years. The data about both the breadth and the depth of the impact of family planning is extremely compelling.

Helping women get access to contraceptives saves their lives, improves the health of mothers and children, as you heard today. It increases children’s school attendance. Family planning leads to more prosperous families, and at the national level, as you’ve heard, it’s even linked to GDP growth. So in short, for us, there are so many reasons to be confident in this investment. And I’d like to focus on one particular issue of family planning and that is the partners’ commitment to innovation. I think you know that Bill and I are big believers in innovation.  It’s what drew us both to computer technology in the first place.  We created our foundation, though, with the idea that we could bring innovation for the poorest people on the planet. Because we’re convinced that if you can take the energy of the innovators and use it on behalf of the poor, you can do incredible things. It can be absolutely transformative.

So we’ve been working with partners on innovation for the poor now for more than a decade. But today, what I’m excited about is joining with you all to innovate on behalf of women. This, for me, is new, and this is exciting. And I want to give you a couple of concrete examples of what I mean about innovations in a family planning space. When you think about family planning from the perspective of a woman, it will change the way you think about family planning. There are so many basic assumptions and longstanding policies that can shift. For example, many family planning programs in Africa consider themselves in stock if they have one type of contraceptive: condoms. Now I think many of you know from all your travels and living there, that a woman often can’t negotiate a condom, sometimes even inside of her own personal relationship. I had a woman tell me in one country in Africa, “If I ask my husband to wear a condom, I’m either saying to him that he has HIV/AIDS, or I’m saying that I must have it. I can’t begin to do that.”

So now countries, though, are changing their policies. When they think about this from a woman’s perspective, an in-stock clinic means that you have all types of different forms of options of birth control. It means including injectables and implants and IUDs. Women-centric contraceptives so that women can decide which type works for her when during the course of her lifetime.  Even so, even though we offer these new types of tools, and I hope that we offer them in many, many settings, many women have trouble getting a clinic to get these types of services. You heard me talk earlier about Sadi, who I met in Niger. She was traveling fifteen kilometers to get an injection. But let’s ask ourselves, what if she didn’t have to travel to that clinic? If we put it in her perspective, how can we keep her in her village to get the contraceptives she wants? Well, Pfizer is testing a new form of Depo, the injection that she gets fifteen kilometers to get. They’re now putting it in a new form, a new device that is very, very small, it’s called Uniject. I think it’s going to be pictured here.

It’s a high quality product.  It’s effective. It’s safe. It’s tiny, as you can see. And it can be put in a healthcare worker’s kit to give to the woman at the village level. So Sadi won’t have to go fifteen kilometers any longer to get that injection. Longer term, if we keep putting money into research and development, which we’re now going to do, work has to be done on contraceptives that meet women’s needs, not just in terms of distance, but also contraceptives that work immediately, don’t have as many side effects, methods that last much longer. It’s been years since this community has really put money into R & D for women for contraceptives. But no matter what type of contraceptives we make available with all this great new R & D, they have to be affordable. If they’re not affordable, we know that contraceptives won’t get out to women.

So now with the countries’ programs, what we can do is pool the purchasing of commodities to bring down the prices and make them more affordable.  Merck’s announcement today is a great example of that. We can now immediately offer four hundred thousand women access to contraceptives that they didn’t have before. But we can’t stop there. We’ve got to continue to scale so that existing partners not only are the ones working in the space, but so that we bring new players into the field because we’ll have enough demand for contraceptives. When you put all these innovations together, the future looks a whole lot more promising. Women can get the contraceptives they need when they need them. They’ll have more opportunities to raise healthier children, build more prosperous families and communities. And in that future, women will thrive. But let me be clear. What we’re doing is an enormous undertaking.

We can’t be shy about admitting that. We’re trying to do something here very ambitious. But the right partners are engaged, and the strategy is right too. We’re committed to supporting the leadership of countries where the work is being done. We’re committed to innovating constantly to multiply our impact. We’re committed to educating women about their options. It’s a difficult task, but it’s absolutely urgent. I’m optimistic because we’re here together. I’m optimistic because there are hundreds of millions of women who desperately want to make life better for themselves and for their children. And if we listen to them, I know we’re going to succeed. Thank you.

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