▶ Watch Video: Melinda French Gates calls maternal deaths in childbirth “needless,” urges action

Melinda French Gates, philanthropist, businesswoman and advocate, is in New York City this week for the annual Goalkeepers event, which brings together leaders to tackle urgent global challenges. The focus of this year’s Goalkeepers Report is the alarming rate of maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth, with an estimated 800 women dying every day from preventable causes worldwide — one death every two minutes.

French Gates told “CBS Mornings” on Monday that women should not be dying from childbirth, calling such deaths “needless.”

“I mean, this is an ancient problem,” she said. “Women giving birth should not — they should not die in birth these days.”

The Goalkeepers Report spotlights life-saving innovations that could save two million mothers and babies by 2030. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, co-chaired by French Gates, has committed $370 million annually from 2023 to 2027 to support maternal and children’s health.

Becoming a grandmother herself helped French Gates reaffirm her commitment to the cause. She was recently in the delivery room with her daughter as she gave birth and has seen firsthand the challenges other mothers faced during childbirth. 

“I was in the delivery room and you see the intense times, and I remember the intense times for me when I’m giving birth, and there’s a lot of downtime where I can think about other places I’ve been in the world, in the delivery room, where moms weren’t gonna survive, but my daughter was likely to survive,” she said.

French Gates said she recently learned about the disparity in maternal mortality with Black and indigenous women being three times more likely to die than White mothers after tennis star Serena Williams spoke out about it in an essay.

“I was shocked that here’s this person who is one of the top athletes in the world and she’s not listened to in our own health care system and we almost lost her,” said French Gates. 

The $370 million annual commitment by the Gates Foundation will be directed toward developing life-saving interventions, collecting data on maternal mortality and advocating for policy changes. French Gates said the company is also exploring the use of AI ultrasounds, which can be administered by nurses or midwives in low-income countries using a smartphone.

French Gates said she plans on staying on the foundation, despite her recent divorce from Bill Gates. The two announced in 2021 they were divorcing after 27 years of marriage. She said in 2021 she would leave the Gates Foundation in two years if “either decides they cannot continue to work together as co-chairs.”

But French Gates told “CBS Mornings” that she has no plans to leave. She said her role as co-chair and founder, along with her children’s dedication to making a positive impact on the world, is the driving force behind her decision to stay. 

“I care deeply in the things we’re talking about today, moms and babies. So there’s no reason for me to leave my post of an institution I created and that I’m advocating for,” she said. 

“I want lives to be saved and this is the way to do it,” French Gates said.