26/01/2012 06:46 GMT | Updated 26/03/2012 06:12 BST

Championing Women's Right to Choose

Bill Gates' annual letter is always an inspiring read and today's was no exception. As an international health charity, Merlin is thrilled at the positive impact the Gates Foundation has had - not just on those whose lives are saved or enhanced, but on decisions-made and donations given.

The Foundation - like Merlin - exists to improve global health by working hard and thoughtfully to bring about lasting change.

As an entrepreneur, it is natural that Bill Gates has an eye to innovation; especially around how science can produce sustainable agriculture.

But we were also encouraged to see that his annual review mentions the fundamental human right - a woman's choice of when she has children. This is an issue very close to Merlin's heart.

The Kenyan woman who Melinda Gates met summed this up aptly by telling her: "I want to bring every good thing to one child before I have another."

Merlin wants that too. And we want women to be spared the risk of preventable death in labour, the trauma of stillbirths, the complications from unsafe abortions and the poor health and fatigue from years of frequent pregnancies. Stronger, healthier women are vital in helping vulnerable communities withstand crises. We can't prevent populations in fragile states being hit by disease outbreaks, natural disasters and conflicts, but having a female population in good health will at least increase their resilience to them.

Bill's letter cites some jaw-dropping figures for population forecasts. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Merlin has been working since 1997, the population is expected to rise 120% by 2050. Compare this to the Europe and the USA where the rate is 25%.

In a country beset by poor access to health services; a chronic shortage of health workers, high maternal death rates and shocking infant mortality, Merlin's work on family planning is needed more than ever.

It is great news that this life-saving issue is mentioned in the same breath as new vaccines, pest-resistant crops and education.