SEATTLE, Wash. (BP) — An Oregon gynecologist is developing a nonsurgical method of permanent contraception with a $5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The foundation claims the grant, awarded late last year, will be used to assist women who have reached their desired family size and no longer wish to have children. But critics argue the Gates-funded project is a continuation of the foundation’s unbalanced focus on contraception and sterilization in the developing world.
The grant is the third from the Gates Foundation to the Oregon Health & Science University. The first, for $1 million, was used to assess whether a foam used to treat varicose veins might also double as a permanent contraceptive. The second, for $295,000, was used to establish the Oregon Permanent Contraception Research Center (OPERM).
OPERM, led by gynecologist Jeffrey Jensen, is using the latest grant to solicit research proposals for studies into effective methods of permanent contraception that are nonsurgical, low cost, portable, acceptable for use by non-physicians, and effective with a single treatment, according to the OPERM funding appeal. Research proposals are due May 30.
“My goal is very simple, to make every pregnancy planned and highly desired,” Jensen said. Jensen cites a World Health Organization (WHO) statistic claiming 222 million women in developing nations would like to stop or delay childbearing but are not using any form of contraception.
But Stephen Phelan of Human Life International disputes the WHO numbers, saying he has not seen the data to back them up.
“There is no justice in manufacturing a supposed demand for poor women to be sterilized, when what these women always say they want most when asked is better basic healthcare, education, opportunity, and just governance,” Phelan said. He argues the portrait painted by Gates and other contraception-pushing foundations misrepresents women in developing countries.
The Gates Foundation has championed contraception access for women in the developing world as “one of the best investments a country can make in its future.”
But Phelan argues the Gates’ vision for “development” by furthering contraceptive access misses the mark.
“It is difficult to determine what is more outrageous, the uncritical and fawning ‘news’ reporting on every new Gates Foundation sterilization development grant, even as coercive sterilization campaigns continue around the world, or the fact that the Gates Foundation continues to act as if every problem in the developing world can be solved by sterilizing women,” Phelan said.
Jensen’s team is testing the FDA-approved varicose veins treatment, a polidocanol foam, which showed promise in initial studies on monkeys and baboons. Jensen hopes soon to move on to human clinical trials.