$1.5 billion from the Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this month committed $1.5 billion over the next five years to support programs that will work to improve maternal and child health, family planning and nutrition in developing countries.

Bill and Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates announced the  plan on Monday at Women Deliver 2010, a gathering of world experts, advocates and policy makers in Washington D.C.

“In poor countries, pregnancy and childbirth often end in tragedy. Our goal must be to build a world where every birth brings joy and hope for the future,” Gates said.

Gates said that the money will be used to support local efforts toward a comprehensive approach to health that will include family planning, prenatal care, nutrition and improving the conditions under which women give birth.

“Every year, millions of newborns die within a matter of days or weeks, and hundreds of thousands of women die in childbirth,” said Gates. “The death toll is so huge, and has persisted for so long, it’s easy to think we’re powerless to do much about it. The truth is, we can prevent most of these deaths – and at a stunningly low cost – if we take action now.”

Gates said, “Most maternal and newborn deaths can be prevented with existing, low-cost solutions – such as basic prenatal care, or educating mothers about the importance of keeping babies warm,” said Gates. “Countries that have made women’s and children’s health a priority – and have invested in proven solutions – are achieving amazing results.”

Researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington say that maternal mortality has fallen more than 35 percent since 1980, from more than 500,000 maternal deaths to about 343,000 in 2008, according to a press release from the Gates foundation.

Deaths among children younger than 5 are also down dramatically. About 7.7 million children are expected to die this year, down from 11.9 million in 1990, and 16 million in 1970, the release stated.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world's largest philanthropic entities, is a "family foundation driven by the interests and passions of the Gates family," according to its stated principles. The foundation seeks to impact a number of major global issues, including health and education.

Bill Gates, founder of the Microsoft computer software giant, co-chairs the foundation with Melinda Gates and his father, William H. Gates Sr.

Photo by Kjetil Ree / www.commons.wikimedia.org

If Mama ain’t healthy…

We're halfway through National Women's Health Week, a time for women to remember that a mother's health is the linchpin for the whole family's health.

On Monday, National Women's Check-Up Day, we were all supposed to make all our necessary medical and dental appointments. If you missed it, you might consider making one or two of those appointments today.Art deco woman

If you're not sure what sort of maintenance you need to do, check out the Interactive Screening Chart and Immunization Tool on the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services website. It breaks down recommended exams, screenings and immunizations by age groups and classifications of health (mental health, reproductive health, oral health, to name a few).

The website notes that it's a good idea to talk with your health-care professional about the recommendations.

The basics of women's health are these, according to the HHR website:

*Get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or a combination of both each week.

*Eat a nutritious diet.

*Visit a health care professional to receive regular checkups and preventive screenings.

*Avoid risky behaviors, such as smoking and not wearing a seatbelt.

*Pay attention to mental health, including getting enough sleep and managing stress.

"The Favorite" by Leon-Francois Comerre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons