The Private Sector’s Role in Improving Global Health

Global health is one of the last frontiers for technical innovation. Companies can have an incredible impact by lending technical know-how to solve intricate global health challenges.

The UNAIDS program estimates that 1.8 million people lost their lives through AIDS-related illnesses in 2009. One in seven of these were children, equating to the death of nearly 30 children every hour.

In the developed world, mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been virtually eradicated. Unfortunately the same is not true for developing countries. More babies are born with HIV in one busy clinic in Africa than in all of United States, Canada, and England combined.

As a woman and a mother, I am saddened by these facts. With the medical advancements available today, situations such as these can and should be prevented.

But how can the right people, technologies, and medicine be mobilized to increase access to quality healthcare around the world?

Social innovation and corporate culture
In my role as head of the social innovation program at HP, I believe it’s our responsibility – and in fact, the private sector’s responsibility - to expand beyond the traditional model of philanthropy in order to achieve maximum gain. We need to think creatively in applying our unique sets of expertise/services to social causes.

The challenge is: how do we effectively turn corporate goodwill into action? And in HP’s case, how can we use our unique technical knowledge and 300,000+ employees to address the world’s greatest challenges?

Our work with mothers2mothers
Let’s revisit the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa as an example. Despite the fact that medicine and healthcare facilities are increasingly available throughout Africa, the mother-to-child HIV transmission rates are staggeringly high. There are more than 1.3 million pregnant women living with HIV in Africa, and without any intervention 40 percent of those women will have HIV-positive babies.

Preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to child is a straightforward medical procedure. However, its effectiveness dramatically decreases without complementary social, emotional, and psychological support.

That’s why mothers2mothers (M2M), an NGO in South Africa, established a unique peer counseling system for HIV-positive mothers. They employ local women throughout Africa as “Mentor Mothers,” providing personalized education and support to expectant moms. This one-on-one counseling de-stigmatizes HIV and empowers women to take control of their social, economic, and reproductive lives. 

Today, m2m is one of the strongest advocates in eradicating HIV in Africa, and has grown to more than 700 facilities. However, with rapid growth have come growing pains. Primarily, m2m’s paper-based backbone made reporting difficult, and they could only scratch the surface of utilizing their valuable data.

We saw an incredible opportunity to collaborate with mothers2mothers—pairing HP’s technology expertise with m2m’s expertise in maternal health— to make a significant and sustainable impact on mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

This week at Digital Life Design, we announced our collaboration to convert m2m’s paper-based system into an advanced digital community. Eventually, we hope to mobilize this community so that m2m employees will be able to collect and share information via mobile phones and other mobile devices, creating an “always connected” environment. 

Technology’s role in global health
Global health is one of the last frontiers for technical innovation. Companies can have an incredible impact by lending technical know-how to solve intricate global health challenges. By connecting social entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations with access to mobile, cloud, and enterprise technology expertise, we can build unique solutions that will ultimately save lives.

Our collaborations with social enterprise mPedigree to fight counterfeit malaria drugs through a new mobile phone and cloud services solution, and with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) to appreciably improve the speed of HIV diagnosis for infants in Kenya, show how we can positively impact these communities.

I look forward to extending this technology collaboration model, and encourage my fellow corporate citizens to think creatively about how they can apply their area of expertise to deliver real change.

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  • BY Shawn Basak

    ON January 31, 2011 10:29 PM

    Hi Gabi,

    I hope additional corporate leaders follow suit and create a dedicated business unit for social innovation.  While it may be a belabored point that companies should aid in social change and global development, few companies do it in a way that creates sustainable social impact and business value.  Global health issues is an issue area that attracts private sector efforts from all types of industries - pharmaceutical, technological, industrial - the unique capabilities of companies in these industries.  For example, pharmaceutical companies are well-positioned to contribute drugs, medical devices, research capabilities and even pharmaceutical research. 

    Of their many capabilities, tech companies have immense value in their ability to centralize and disseminate information.  The example of m2m you state above is a great example of this.  Another great example of this is an innovative public-private partnership called Text4baby which provides critical prenatal information to expecting mothers via their mobile device to better promote maternal and child health.  Lastly, one of the more disruptive nonprofits out there in the field right now is Medic Mobile, an organization led by recognized social entrepreneur Josh Nesbit.  This organization harnesses the power of technology to improve the impact of community health workers who operate in remote communities.

    I look forward to seeing how HP’s collaborative impact continues t unfold and again applaud HP’s leadership in social innovation.


  • Taylor Ahlgren's avatar

    BY Taylor Ahlgren

    ON February 22, 2011 04:30 PM

    I’m doing an MBA at Oxford and previously worked for Grassroot Soccer, an HIV prevention organization and partner of mothers2mothers in South Africa.

    The movement for corporate social responsibility (CSR) with meaning and impact has made significant strides in recent years. HP’s Office of Global Social Innovation as opposed to a brushed-aside CSR unit is a good example of this.

    I will be interested to see how CSR and traditional corporate strategy merge together as one - taking into account social impact as core to the existence of the company. Firms that do this will push business in the right direction. Of course, consumers need to provide some nudging along as well.

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