The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will spend more than $1 billion over the next eight years to help boost access to contraceptives in the developing world and research new methods of birth control.
Melinda Gates made the announcement Wednesday at a family planning summit in London chaired jointly by her Seattle-based foundation and the British government.
The new funding level represents a doubling of Gates spending for family planning and puts the topic on a par with some of the foundation's other top priorities, including work on vaccines and treatments for malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.
Gates said she and her husband, the Microsoft co-founder, always strive to make sure their philanthropic money is put to the best use.
"When Bill and I discussed this at home, we had absolutely no hesitation in making this decision," Melinda Gates said at the summit, which was streamed live on the Web.
Giving women access to contraceptives will reduce unwanted pregnancies, slash the number of women who die in childbirth and reduce abortions, she said.
"Family planning leads to more prosperous families, and at the national level, it's even linked to increased GDP growth," she said.
The London summit exceeded its goal of raising $4.3 billion in pledges from nations, foundations and companies, to make contraceptives available to an additional 120 million women in the poorest parts of the world.
Developing countries pledged $2 billion, while wealthy nations and foundations agreed to ante up $2.6 billion, said Andrew Mitchell, the United Kingdom's International Development Secretary.
The biggest single commitment was from the U.K. government, which pledged an increase of $800 million over the next eight years, bringing the nation's total spending to $1.6 billion. The U.S. government, the world's biggest funder of international family planning programs, did not pledge any additional money.
The Gates Foundation will spend $140 million a year for the next eight years, up from the current funding level of $70 million a year. Since its inception in the mid 1990s, the foundation has spent about $1 billion on family planning and birth control.
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