From the Wall Street Journal, writer Mirian Jordan is covering the conference.
Melinda Gates said the foundation was taking the lead to jumpstart a global effort. She urged world leaders in the developing and industrialized world to also do their part to prevent mothers and babies from dying. "It is going to take government effort and investment," she said at a women's health conference where she made the announcement.
"Every year, millions of newborns die within a matter of days or weeks, and hundreds of thousands of women die in childbirth," Mrs. Gates said. "The truth is, we can prevent most of these deaths – and at a stunningly low cost – if we take action."
Mrs. Gates said she was inspired to take up the cause by the success in poverty-stricken countries like Malawi, in Africa, where the government has trained 30,000 health workers who have been crucial to lowering childhood and maternal mortality. Sri Lanka, in South Asia, has instituted policy changes that cut maternal mortality dramatically, she said.
Mrs. Gates said the bulk of the $1.5 billion would go to programs in India, Ethiopia and several other countries where death rates among mothers and children remain stubbornly high. The funds will be spent on training health workers, developing antibiotics for infections in newborns and treating post-partum hemorrhage in mothers.
Mrs. Gates cited recent studies by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and researchers in Australia that found the number of women dying from pregnancy-related causes has dropped by more than 35 percent in the past 30 years -- from more than 500,000 annually in 1980 to about 343,000 in 2008.