Yesterday scores of people around the world took part in the live streamed TEDxChange event that was held in Berlin as well as the robust online conversation that took place throughout. I was fortunate to be invited by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to be in Berlin to cover the talks. It was a remarkable evening, to be sure. Several talks were given last night, but one in particular, struck a chord with me and so many others. It was Melinda Gates’ talk about the importance of family planning and access to contraception for women in developing countries.
Why is this important?
More than 200 million women in developing countries who want to use contraceptives don’t have access to it according to the United Nations Population Fund and Guttmacher Institute.
Family planning and access to contraception reduces the amount of maternal and child deaths. In fact, according to Melinda Gates’ talk “every year, 100,000 women who don’t want to be pregnant die in childbirth and about 600,000 women who don’t want to be pregnant give birth to a baby who dies in her first month of life.”
Per the United Nations Population Fund, the use of contraception can significantly decrease the 75 million unintended pregnancies and 20 million unsafe abortions that occur every year worldwide. Unintended pregnancies lead to more than one in three maternal deaths and one in four infant deaths worldwide according to the Guttmacher Institute.
That is a lot of data, but it’s data worth knowing.
Giving birth in developing countries is a critical issue. Delivering a baby for millions of women around the world is literally a life and death situation. Most women in developing nations don’t have the money to deliver their babies in hospitals and when those who do have enough money for hospital care the hospitals typically have little supplies and knowledge to deal with life-threatening conditions like hemorrhaging. Imagine if a woman delivers a baby, barely survives hemorrhaging, and then four months later is pregnant again. This scenario for women happens all of the time and can be a death sentence to them or their baby.
One of Melinda Gates’ contentions is that throughout her travels around the world women everywhere want more access to contraception but oftentimes it is not available when they need it. Gates is up to the task of providing contraception to women who need it and is looking toward new technologies that can make access to contraceptives even more available. New technologies might mean one can get the injection every five months instead of every three, for example. In a question and answer session with the media before TEDxChange Melinda Gates mentioned she is dedicating the next 30 years of her life to this issue to ensure that women who want contraception have access to it.
Gates, however, does not harbor unrealistic expectations that providing contraception the world over will be a cake walk. In fact, in speaking with Gary Darmstadt, the Director of Family Health at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we learned that some men in various cultures feel they can control women more who are not using contraceptives. That means in order to provide more contraceptive choice and options for women families and communities must all take part and make change – that includes men, religious leaders, and women working in tandem.
Gates also understands that some will hear “family planning” and immediately shut off. Some shut off because they believe family planning is a controversial issue, when this is really an issue about women and their children living or dying. The Gates Foundation and TED have created a community site that allows women to share their stories about contraception to help erase the notion that family planning and contraception is controversial. Visit How Have Contraceptives Changed Your Life? or nocontroversy.tedxchange.org to take part.