Bill and Melinda Gates

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is to pledge hundreds of millions of dollars towards improving access to contraception in the developing world.

Melinda Gates revealed to Reuters that the financial commitment would be "on a par" with other programmes established by the foundation, such as those combating malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis.

The exact amount of funding is due to be announced at the London Summit of Family Planning, taking place in London on 11 July, which aims to raise $4bn in order to increase access to contraception for 120 million women by 2020. Figures produced by the United Nations claim that approximately 220 million women in the developing world cannot get reliable access to contraception.

The use of contraception is still proving to be a contentious and controversial matter, with Melinda Gates being subject to criticism by Catholic groups for her support of contraceptives.

Gates responded to the criticism by referring to a Gallup poll that took place in the US three months ago that found that 90% of Americans consider contraceptives as morally acceptable, with 82% of Catholics sharing the same viewpoint.

The foundation also faces the task of battling negative connotations surrounding the control of population growth created by controversial programmes, such as China’s one-child policy and the enforced sterilisation that occurred in India in the 1970s.

The campaign did, however, receive substantial support from a series of studies published in The Lancet, with one stating that better access to contraception could cut maternal deaths by 30%. Around 13% of maternal deaths in the developing world are caused by unsafe abortions, an occurrence which could be reduced through improved access to contraception.

Image: Bill and Melinda Gates have pledged to support a campaign to improve access to contraception for 120 million women in the developing world. Image courtesy of Kjetil Ree.