Pathfinder International Welcomes Focus on Measuring Progress in Bill Gates’ Annual Letter

Melinda Gates, Maternal Health

Today, Bill Gates released his annual letter as Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, focusing on innovations in measurement. He identified these as “critical to finding new, effective ways to deliver tools and services to clinics” and called attention to the successes in health care that are taking place around the world—from Ethiopia to India and beyond.

In addition to the keen focus on measurement, the letter highlights the dedicated work of Melinda Gates over the past year on family planning and contraception.

“As Bill Gates rightly points out, innovation can’t have an impact unless it reaches people. And how do you know it’s reaching people unless you include in that measurement the people you are trying to reach?” Purnima Mane, President of Pathfinder said. “This is something we’ve seen time and again in our work to improve women’s access to contraception, decrease maternal mortality, and lower rates of HIV infection.”

Melinda Gates wrote of the difficulties in establishing baselines around how many women are using contraception. “Figuring out how many women wanted to use them but didn’t have access was even more difficult. I learned, for example, that some health clinics reported having contraceptives 'in stock' as long as condoms were on the shelves. However, many women prefer contraceptive injections and implants, in part because they have trouble negotiating the use of condoms with their sex partners. As a result, nobody was counting the many women who had access only to contraceptives they didn't want and couldn't use.”

These challenges in measurement are ones that Pathfinder teams around the world face every day. But it is also an area of opportunity, especially for understanding and responding to the needs of those we serve. Pathfinder has a highly-skilled and dedicated team focused on gathering and analyzing high quality data, as well as on building the capacity of local partners to use data to assess and improve performance.

“We believe that high quality data lead to better programs, better accountability, and a better understanding of ‘what works.’” Pat David, Director of Research and Metrics at Pathfinder, said. “Pathfinder complements our quantitative data with qualitative studies to understand how and why our projects bring about change, interpreting and adding depth to the numbers.” 

"With leadership from those like Bill and Melinda Gates focusing on measurement, innovation, and family planning, and strong partnerships in the public and private sector, we have a fighting chance to meet our goals by 2020, if not sooner." - Purnima ManeOur strong focus on using data to monitor performance has led to strong project results. In Ethiopia, through the USAID-funded and Pathfinder-led Integrated Family Health Program, Pathfinder and our partners provide family planning and maternal, newborn, and child health services across a wide area that is home to almost 40 percent of the country’s population. Since 2009, Pathfinder and partners have helped train nearly 20,000 health workers and nearly 17,000 health extension workers. And the project has listened to the needs of women, providing contraceptives they want like Implanon. Conservative estimates for Implanon distribution through the Integrated Family Health Program show that the project has provided nearly 400,000 implants. Pathfinder’s data indicates that this contributed to as much as 69 percent of the shift in implant use documented in the 2011 DHS.

In India under the Packard-funded PRACHAR project, Pathfinder’s work with young couples has helped to increase use of contraception to delay and space pregnancies. The percent of young married couples using contraception increased four-fold in the first project phase alone (from 4% in 2002-03 to 21% in 2004-05, versus 3% to 5% in comparison areas), and a follow-up study in 2008 showed that young women who participated in PRACHAR were almost five times more likely to use contraception before their first birth than women who were not exposed to PRACHAR.

“We have seen significant gains in improving access to contraception for women in countries like Ethiopia and among young couples to delay first pregnancy in India.” Purnima Mane said. “With 222 million women still without access to modern contraception, we still have a lot to do. But with leadership from those like Bill and Melinda Gates focusing on measurement, innovation, and family planning, and strong partnerships in the public and private sector, we have a fighting chance to meet our goals by 2020, if not sooner.”

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