October 8th, 2010

Focusing on the “Who”

From Sharon D’Agostino, Vice President, Worldwide Corporate Contributions and Community Relations, Johnson & Johnson

Last month, Heads of State, Ministers of Health, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Private Foundations, and a few representatives of the private sector convened at the United Nations for the Secretary General’s Summit on Maternal and Child Health. In fact, there were many conferences, convenings and meetings in New York last week, all focused on the lack of progress that the world has made on the Millennium Development Goals devoted to the health and survival of women and children in low resource countries. As I participated in a number of these discussions, I was reminded that all too often we focus on the “what” and the “how” of the programs and policies that affect women and children, while we omit the conversation about the “who.”

Johnson & Johnson has a long history of working to improve maternal and child health. As part of this work, my colleagues and I visit programs that our company supports around the world, programs developed with the community-based partners with whom we work. During these trips, we have the opportunity to meet the people positively affected by these programs, to see both the needs and outcomes, and to hear the stories of success and failure. When we see what well-designed and well-implemented programs can mean to the lives of individual babies, children, girls, women and men, we are reminded of the important role we all can – and should – play in making programs work.

Three weeks ago, I attended the five-year anniversary celebration of the Chinese Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP), which has provided resuscitation training to over 100,000 healthcare professionals and has saved over 90,000 babies. At that meeting in Shanghai, we met two of the toddlers, a boy and a girl, who had not instinctively taken that first breath of life. These children survived because they were each resuscitated by a doctor trained in NRP. Seeing those playful toddlers and hearing their mothers’ tearful stories about not hearing the first cry of life after birth, made me tearful, too, and grateful to do the work that we do.

At Johnsons & Johnson, my colleagues and I are proud to join the UN Secretary-General’s call to action for a renewed global effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing mortality in mothers and children by 2015. This has been a focus of our company for decades. We have worked in partnership with hundreds of NGOs and dozens of governments around the world to help address the issues that place mothers and children at risk. We know that the success of any program depends on partnering with community-based organizations because they are in the best position to understand the needs of the people they serve and to know the most effective ways to reach and support them.

Our five-year commitment is an extension of the work that we currently support and our goal is to reach over 400 million women and children by focusing on four areas. The first of these is an exciting innovation to improve maternal and newborn health and survival through the delivery of frequent and basic health information via mobile phones. It may be hard to imagine that in many low resource settings women who do not have easy access to a health clinic do have access to a mobile phone. In our mobile health initiative, essential information can reach even women in remote areas, women who need it most.

The second focus of our commitment is the donation of 200 million doses per year of a drug, mebendazole, that is used to treat children with intestinal worms. Some readers may have seen or met a child suffering from this terrible condition, a child whose bloated belly is full of worms that deprive him or her of essential nutrition and the energy required to study or even play.

The third area of our commitment is safe birth programs. As many as sixty percent of the developing world’s women give birth at home without the help of a skilled health professional, midwife, or traditional birth attendant. This is a staggering statistic. Training birth attendants is an important component of our commitment, as is preventing the transmission of HIV from a mother to her newborn, reducing the number of babies who die because they cannot take their first breath, and preventing and repairing obstetric fistula. These are all areas in which we have existing initiatives that will be expanded.

The fourth and very important area is innovation in R&D, research and development on new treatments for diseases that disproportionately impact women and children in low resource countries, AIDS and TB.

I am excited by the work we do and I look forward to sharing the stories of the girls, women and children whose lives are affected by this work. Not all 400 million of them, but those whom we get to meet and know.

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