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Melinda Gates is going 'all in' on contraception in her philanthropy efforts

The goal: Get 110 million more women access to birth control by 2020.

Asa Mathat

Melinda Gates is on a mission to help women around the world decide when and if they have children.

"What I'm trying to do is bend the curve," the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said in an interview with Walt Mossberg at the Code Conference on Wednesday morning, joined by her husband, Bill Gates.

That curve represents the pace of getting 110 million more women around the world access to birth control, which given current trends would take until 2035. Melinda Gates says the foundation is trying to shorten that to 2020.

"I have really gone all in on family planning," she said. If a woman has voluntary access to contraception and can choose when she becomes pregnant, "you don’t commit her to a life of poverty."

When a woman has the opportunity to space out her children's births, Gates said, "she can not only feed them, she can educate them."

The goal is closely tied to a larger one of the foundation's ambitions, which is to lower the global rate of children dying under the age of five. Already that number has been cut in half, from 12 million a year to six million.

One complication, Gates said, is that women have trouble asking their husbands and partners to use condoms. "A woman cannot negotiate a condom with her husband," she said — they take it as the woman implying that the man has AIDS. "They have to be able to use contraception whether their husbands will allow them to or not."

Bill Gates, for his part, has focused on the eradication of polio by way of vaccination.

"With any luck, we will have the last case next year," he said. The disease has essentially been eradicated in Africa. The foundation is still working on vaccinating children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where polio cases still persist.

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