May 17, 2013
A core focus of the health-related Millennium Development Goals is to help reduce child deaths by two thirds before the 2015 deadline. Nearly 7 million children die every year, mostly in developing countries and from preventable causes. Some 40 percent of these deaths occur in the first month of life, Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor of ABC news, told the audience. He asked the panelists to explain how their businesses were investing in reducing child deaths and how these initiatives aligned with their business interests.
Janeen Uzzell, director of healthcare programs, General Electric (GE) Africa, said GE was invested in getting its products and technologies, such as baby warmers and handheld ultrasound scanners for pregnant women, into the hands of health care workers at community level. Understanding the challenges on the ground — such as water and electricity scarcity — had informed GE’s technological innovations and allowed it to expand its markets, she said. “We were talking about better health for all people but we understood that our products weren’t addressing all those people,” she said. Uzzell also spoke of the importance of providing training to health providers that aligned with each country’s national standards.
Doug Horswill, senior vice president of Teck Resources, spoke about how the mining company is partnering with international and non-profit agencies to supply zinc to curb diarrhea deaths in children. Examples include a new program with UNICEF Canada to save the lives of children in India and zinc programs in sub-Saharan Africa. The zinc initiative was more about creating “global citizenship,” than driving profits, Horswill said, adding that its smelting site could probably produce enough zinc in one day to meet the world’s consumption needs. Further, he noted, Teck’s zinc initiatives enhance the company’s reputation. “We realized we could make a contribution that would make our employees proud of the company they worked for,” he said.
Nestlé has been fortifying foods for a long time but now has a business strategy that involves supplying fortified nutritional products to countries with the greatest need, said Denis Barclay, scientific advisor from its corporate wellness unit. Nestlé aims to increase its supply of 150 billion micronutrient products to 250 billion by 2015 to poor children. Still, he noted, this constituted only two percent of the “global micronutrient gap.”
William Hausdorff, vice president and vaccine development leader of pneumococcal vaccines at GlaxoSmithKline, said great strides had been made in getting its vaccines to the developing world through partnerships GSK formed with several global health agencies. In the past year, Kenya, Ethiopia and Pakistan had begun introducing GSK’s pneumococcal vaccine. Pneumonia is the biggest killer of children under 5 worldwide. Hausdorff said that offering vaccines to developing countries “at deeply discounted prices” was not “charity or philanthropy.” It was part of the company’s core business but could only be achieved with the profits from sales in developed countries, he added. The company earned acceptance or overcame local skepticism in many settings by working with trusted local and global partners, he said.
H. Melvin Ming, president and CEO of Sesame Workshop, told the audience, “We believe that every child on the planet deserves the opportunity to thrive and reach their potential. To do that they need to be alive.” Sesame Street operates in 150 countries and had been around for 44 years. Ming explained how it uses its puppet characters or “Muppets” to communicate health and education messages to children—andby extension their caregivers—in simple, engaging, easy-to-understand ways. These range from messages around obesity in the United States and heart disease in Colombia to HIV in South Africa and malaria in Tanzania. Sesame Workshop has commissioned studies, he said, to test the impact of the messaging. Sesame works with local health partners to get the messages right and, echoing Hausdorff, Ming said the importance of partnering with players viewed as credible by local audiences was critical. “By communicating, we can educate and therefore change behaviors,” Ming said.
To illustrate Ming’s point, the session started off with a humorous visit from Cookie Monster himself, who struggled with the message: “Me know that cookies are a sometimes food,” not an all-the-time food, and that they should be balanced with healthy choices. “Look at me watch,” cookie monster said, “it’s sometime right now!”