SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Melinda Gates recently announced a “new crusade” for her $32 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A recent Newsweek interview with Michelle Goldberg says it’s a “decision that is likely to change lives all over the planet.”
Gates has “decided to make family planning her signature issue,” by investing “billions to revolutionize contraception worldwide,” with substantial economic consequences.
The Gates decision will “be hugely significant for American women.” She’s “pouring money into the long-neglected field of contraceptive research, seeking entirely new methods of birth control,” a “whole new class of drugs,” some that could even work without hormones, and others, might be implantable devises that never need to be removed, can even be turned on and off by the woman.
The good news: Gates is already in high gear “teaming up with the British government to co-sponsor a summit of world leaders in July in London, to start raising the $4 billion the foundation says it will cost to get 120 million more women access to contraceptives by 2020.”
And that’s huge: Last year the entire pharmaceutical industry made a total of $67.4 billion in all their research, including cancer and heart, plus the cost of developing a single new drug can exceed $1 billion. So Gates $4 billion in new research for women’s health care makes Melinda Gates perhaps the biggest player in the future of pharmaceuticals worldwide.
Commercial opportunities: Drug sales of $15 billion to $36 billion annually
Moreover, we know investing in R&D can have huge payoffs, creating major new marketing and sales opportunities for the commercial drug world. $4 billion of new research is certain to leverage up several times with new business opportunities not only for the pharmaceutical industry, but for clinics, hospitals and medical professionals.
For example, Newsweek says that Pfizer’s Depo-Provera is already the most “popular in many poor countries because women need to take it only four times a year.” So you do the numbers: If 120 million new women users chose Depo-Provera, at an estimated average cost between $120-$300 per woman annually, that works out to $15 billion to $36 billion in new sales annually, a nice payoff from leveraging $4 billion in research money.
Gates’s research commitment may be one of the most significant health-care decisions of the new century. As Gates put it, when she realized “what needed to get done in family planning, I finally said, OK, I’m the person that’s going to do that.” Now she hopes to lead the charge and “galvanize a global movement.”
With this commitment, if Gates succeeds in these plans the global economic, social, cultural and political landscape will be dramatically altered, with women gaining more power over their own health care.
Economic ripples: 120 million potential new women entrepreneurs
We’ve all heard about how all across the globe, especially in developing, emerging and poor countries, new banking institutions are making microloans (small loans to poor people with no credit or collateral). This new industry stepped into the global spotlight back in 2006 when Muhammud Yunus, an Indian economics professor turned banker, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with his Grameen Bank, for their groundbreaking efforts with microloans, creating a new class of micro-entrepreneurs worldwide.
So we expect the Gates $4 billion research investment will add more stimulus to this microloan phenomenon and increase membership in this new class of entrepreneurs.
In a well-documented feature on women’s health, population growth, birth control and family planning back in 2010, the editors of Mother Jones magazine, Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery, wrote:
“Every tiny improvement in the status of women, every bit of education for girls, translates into women having more control over their fertility, which translates into family sizes that match parents’ means and wishes, which in turn means more opportunity for the next generation — a virtuous cycle of enormous potential” and economic prosperity.