July 1st, 2010

Collaboration is Key to Maternal and Newborn Health

From Paul Stoffels, Global Head, Pharmaceuticals Research & Development

Last week I was privileged to represent Johnson & Johnson at the Pacific Health Summit (PHS) – an annual gathering that convenes nearly 250 leaders in science, policy and industry to focus on issues of critical importance to global health. It is a unique event that connects decision makers to spark solutions in the quest for a healthier world.

This year’s theme was Maternal and Newborn Health. The idea is that caring for mothers and providing opportunities for better prenatal, newborn and childhood care can lead to a healthier, more productive world.

For many of us in the developed world, access to maternal and child care is a given. But for many mothers and children around the world, that’s not the case. According to a recent report, globally, 8.8 million children a year die before their fifth birthday, more than 40 percent of them during their first four weeks of life. At least two-thirds of all child deaths are preventable.

No theme could be more aligned with the work and values of Johnson & Johnson. Women and children have been at the heart of our core business for nearly 125 years. They are an important focus of our public/private partnering, and remain a touchstone of our charitable giving. At the same time, no one institution or organization can solve this problem alone, which is why I believe that collaboration and sharing solutions and resources is so important.

One of the most critical discussions I participated in was the session focused on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.  According to the UNAIDS AIDS Epidemic Update 2009, in 2008, approximately 430,000 children under age 15 became infected with HIV, mainly through mother-to-child transmission; about 90 percent of these occurred in Africa.  At the same time, in high income counties this problem has been virtually eliminated through effective voluntary testing and counseling, access to antiretroviral therapy, safe delivery practices, and availability of breast-milk substitutes.  

The conversation on this topic at PHS was spirited to say the least – it was clear to me that the participants strongly believe that if similar interventions were implemented around the world, they could have significant impact in saving children’s lives. Our challenge now, discussed by Sheri McCoy, worldwide chairman of our Pharmaceuticals Group in an essay in the “Summit Challenge” compendium, is to determine the most effective channels and identify the appropriate resources to take action and make this a reality. At Johnson & Johnson, we have begun doing so by working with global stakeholders and supporting partners, such as mothers2mothers and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, on PMTCT programs.

I also detailed progress in our partnership with the TB Alliance, aimed at developing new drugs for a disease that still causes 2 million deaths each year, a significant portion of them being children. Our partnership has enabled great clinical progress, and led to the recent announcement of the Critical Path to TB Drug Regimens initiative. CPTR members include the world’s leading pharmaceutical developers, global regulatory agencies, and civil society organizations, which are working together to overcome obstacles and speed new TB drug regimens to the patients who most urgently need them. Incidentally, this unprecedented cross-sector partnership to tackle TB was fueled by conversations at the 2009 PHS.

Other Johnson & Johnson colleagues at the Summit shared experiences from additional initiatives in which our organization plays a role, including the International Partnership on Microbicides, which aims to end transmission of HIV; Children Without Worms, which works to end the infestation of parasitic worms in children, and text4baby, an innovative free mobile information service that provides pregnant women and new moms with information they need to take care of their own and their children’s health.

The Summit helped us see that while we are making significant inroads into global health through innovation, novel partnerships and access to medicines, there is still much to be done. I sincerely hope that the seeds planted last week in London will bear fruit in the form of new partnerships between industry, government, NGOs, and public and private entities. We know that continuing the dialogue we started at the Pacific Health Summit, as well as our ability to deliver new and innovative health solutions, globally and locally – will make a world of difference in the lives and health of millions.

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