An African woman in a produce market carries her baby in a wrap on her back

$40 Million Boost for Reproductive Health and Leadership Building

By Greg Rienzi

What does $40 million buy these days? If you’re Amy Tsui, PhD, the answer is plenty of stability and flexibility.

Tsui directs the School’s Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, the recent recipient of a $40 million grant from the Institute’s founding benefactor.

The 10-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, announced on June 5, will significantly increase funding for the Institute, which helps to train leaders of reproductive health programs in developing countries, conduct reproductive health research, and develop and transfer technology and practices.

Tsui, a professor in Population and Family Health Sciences, says that the Gates funds offer a “tremendous opportunity” to help satisfy a developing country’s need for capacity building in terms of training individuals and developing institutions.

“Ultimately, we feel that the fulfillment of this need is extremely vital to the health and development of a population,” Tsui says. “We welcome this unique, generous gift as a statement that there is a growing commitment to the area of reproductive health and leadership building.”

In the developing world, unintended pregnancies and unsafe childbearing are a major cause of illness and death. 

It’s estimated that 120 million women who want and need access to family planning services don’t have it; each year there are approximately 66 million unwanted pregnancies and 20 million unsafe abortions, the majority of them in developing countries. 

The Gates gift comes at a time, Tsui says, when the increasing tide of conservatism has meant the withdrawal of some financial support, due in large part to the belief that reproductive health means abortion.

“Yet, in reality what we are trying to promote is the deepened understanding of population health and development on the macro level, and management of pregnancy and infection risk on the micro level,” she says.

The Institute will use the majority of the funds to invest in partnerships with key academic and public health institutions. It currently partners with schools in 13 countries, but the plan is to expand to more than 20 nations. In particular, the new money will support the development of institutions such as the Center for Reproductive Health at the University of Malawi and the Center for Reproductive Health and Development in Peru, as well as the continued integration of family planning services into HIV/AIDS counseling and testing services in the Rakai district of Uganda.

The Institute focuses its efforts on people who offer the promise of applying their newfound leadership skills and research knowledge to significant policy issues in their home countries, such as Nigeria, Pakistan, Guatemala, and India. To that end, fellows and scholars participate in School-based or in-country training that ranges from a weeklong workshop to a four-year doctoral degree program.

Following their training, fellows and scholars maintain a relationship with the Institute through regular follow-up contact.

Dean Alfred Sommer says the 10-year grant allows the Institute to confidently build on existing relationships and think more strategically about the future.

“It offers us tremendous flexibility, as the School can develop a research and education agenda, and experiment with ideas, without the constraints of certain criteria typically found in federal funding,” says Sommer, MD, MHS ’73. “The Gates Foundation recognized that for the Institute to be successful, long-term commitments need to be made to individuals and institutions in other countries.”