Women’s Health Innovations

Our goal
To facilitate the development of innovative health products and widen the innovation ecosystem to address conditions that disproportionately affect the lives of women in low- and middle-income countries.
Parents of children at Aisyiyah run kindergarten school, Paud Terpadu Aisyiyah, learn how to access information about contraception on their smartphones using an App, Skata, during a session on family planning in Makassar, Indonesia.
Parents learn how to access information about contraception on their smartphones during a session on family planning in Makassar, Indonesia. ©Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Prashant Panjiar

Our strategy

We build on existing foundation expertise to facilitate the development of new diagnostic tools, treatments, vaccines, and reproductive health solutions. Our team collaborates closely with other health-focused teams across the foundation to develop and deliver interventions that improve the health of women and girls.

Areas of focus

We work in partnership with colleagues who focus on advocacy and women’s health to increase funding and attention directed to research and development (R&D) for women's health. We do this by:

  • Increasing the amount and efficiency of existing R&D funding for women’s health conditions.
  • Supporting technical agenda-setting for R&D with funders, policymakers, and industry.
  • Increasing the number of and interest in public-private partnerships that address conditions disproportionately affecting women.

We also work to bring innovative products to market, including by:

Current contraceptive methods don’t meet the needs of all women and girls. We’re expanding our R&D investments to create new and better options that are informed by a deep understanding of women’s and girls’ preferences—and what prevents them from using contraception.

Women often bear a disproportionate burden of sexually transmitted infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer. We invest in technologies that can detect and prevent these infections so women can live healthier, more productive lives.

Menstruation can often lead girls to miss school, and gynecological disorders can increase the risk of HIV infection and preterm birth. We invest in research to understand the biology underlying these issues and to inform the development of new products to improve reproductive health.

R&D in women’s health has been historically neglected. Making innovative products that will improve the lives of women will require increased R&D funding, more inclusive R&D, increased attention from policymakers, and a robust collaboration between public and private institutions to prioritize the health of women. Building capacity and supporting female researchers to become leaders in this area are also central to our work.

Why focus on women’s health innovations?

Good health is necessary for women and children to thrive in all areas of their lives. So is the ability of women to make decisions about their health. As babies become children, children become adolescents, and adolescents become adults, their health needs change: Along with robust primary care, their circumstances might require access to better nutrition, family planning, or maternal care.

However, there has been a shocking lack of investment in understanding the biology of conditions that disproportionately affect women and girls, such as HPV and reproductive health tract infections, as well as how to prevent and treat them. A recent study that analyzed research funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) found a huge gender disparity: In nearly three-quarters of the cases where a disease has affected primarily one gender, NIH funding has favored males.

Standard health R&D practices also tend to leave out women. For example, pregnant people were excluded from the COVID-19 vaccine trials even though the disease increases the risk of pregnancy complications and worse outcomes for mothers and babies. To unlock progress for women and for society, it is critical to ensure that women in low- and middle-income countries benefit from innovations in health technology, and that those innovations are designed and developed in a way that addresses their needs.

Beimnet Endashaw, (25), a health extension worker, prepares a contraceptive injection at the Shera Dibandiba health post center near Mojo town, Ethiopia on September 2, 2019.

Strategy leadership