WASHINGTON – Philanthropist Melinda Gates announced Monday that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will spend $1.5 billion over five years to support maternal and child health projects abroad.

Gates, whose husband, Bill, is co-founder of Microsoft Corp. and one of the world’s richest people, made her announcement at an international conference on women’s health attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The event was billed as the largest-ever conference on women’s health.

Gates said the world is not lacking in know-how to cut the number of deaths in childbirth.

“It’s that we haven’t tried hard enough,” she said.

“Policymakers in both rich and poor countries have treated women and children, quite frankly, as if they matter less than men,” Gates said.

Ban said he senses a new momentum among governments, foundations, businesses and humanitarian groups for forging a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to improving women’s and children’s health.

In her speech, Gates said the $1.5 billion that the Gates Foundation will invest through 2014 will support projects addressing family planning, nutrition and health care for pregnant women, newborns and children.

A major portion of the new money will support programs in India, Ethiopia and other countries with relatively high maternal and child mortality rates, she said.