Gates, who is from a Catholic family, describes contraception as 'one of the greatest anti-poverty innovations the world has ever known'

Melinda Gates has said she is “optimistic” Pope Francis will change Church teaching on contraception.

Gates, who was raised Catholic, said she had “agreed to disagree” with the Church on the issue, claiming that contraception is “one of the greatest anti-poverty innovations the world has ever known.”

In a BBC interview, Gates said her charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, works “very extensively with the Catholic Church” and has had “many discussions with them, because we have a shared mission around social justice and anti-poverty”.

“I think what this Pope sees is that if we are going to lift people out of poverty, you have to do the right thing for women, and so we have agreed at this point to disagree,” she said.

She added that Pope Francis has not changed Church teaching “yet”, but “these things take time”. She said she was “optimistic” the Church would change its teaching “over time”.

The Foundation is currently co-hosting an international summit in London on the issue of access to contraception in the developing world. Reuters says they expect to raise at least $2.5 billion, and will invest $375 million of that in “family planning” programmes over the next four years.

Her comments come as Britain’s secretary of state for international development, Priti Patel, announced the government will increase aid for family planning and abortion services by 25 per cent, costing the taxpayer over £1.1 billion.

The Government will spend £225 million of taxpayers’ money per year over the next five years providing contraception for developing countries, including abortion services.

Pro-life campaigners have condemned the move, with Anne Scanlan, director of education at charity Life, saying: “This is absolutely shocking. A recent ComRes poll showed that 65 per cent of the public oppose UK taxpayer money being spent on abortions overseas.”

“We call on the Government not to proceed with this new support for the family planning and abortion industry and to instead pursue global initiatives to support women in pregnancy,” she added.