Johnson & Johnson giving $200M to boost health of women, children in poor countries

By Linda A. Johnson, AP
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

J&J giving $200 million for health of women, kids

TRENTON, N.J. — Health giant Johnson & Johnson is donating about $200 million in cash and medicine to a sweeping United Nations program created to improve the health and lives of people in poor countries.

J&J is launching a five-year program called “Every Mother, Every Child,” meant to help almost 400 million women and children in developing countries. The maker of No More Tears Baby Shampoo will donate its medicine for treating intestinal worms in children, send pregnant women messages on prenatal health on their cell phones, and work to make childbirth safer. J&J also will continue research on new treatments for the AIDS virus and tuberculosis, both of which disproportionately affect women and children in developing countries.

“It’s a natural extension of our commitment to improve the health of mothers and children everywhere,” Johnson & Johnson CEO Bill Weldon said in prepared remarks. “For several decades, we’ve worked in partnership with dozens of nonprofits and governments in every region of the world to help treat and prevent diseases that place mothers and children at risk.”

The J&J effort addresses part of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. That’s an ambitious international effort, begun in 2000, to bring everyone in the world basic needs and rights, from good health, shelter and education to equality between men and women.

J&J, based in New Brunswick, announced the program Wednesday and discussed it with reporters during a conference call Thursday with Weldon, UN Assistant Secretary-General Robert Orr and officials of three health projects.

“Our company’s credo stresses the importance of giving back to the community,” Weldon said. “We want every woman and every child, in every country, to know that they belong to that community and that we dedicate ourselves and our resources to their good health.”

Weldon has spent recent months trying to refurbish J&J’s once-golden reputation, which has been tarnished by 11 recalls of medicines, contact lenses and hip implants in the last year. The largest recall involved 136 million bottles of children’s and infants’ liquid medicines that might have contained tiny metal particles or had too much of their active ingredient. Congress, federal prosecutors and the Food and Drug Administration are looking into J&J’s handling of the recalls.

J&J’s announcement of the “Every Mother, Every Child” program comes just ahead of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals Summit, to be held in New York Sept. 20-22.

The conference, expected to draw more than 150 heads of state and leaders of corporations and nongovernmental organizations, will urge those officials to create global partnerships and speed up progress on reaching those development goals. The meeting also will review progress over the last decade on the goals, which are to be met by 2015.

The goals include bringing every individual freedom from extreme poverty and hunger, productive employment, quality education, good health and shelter and equality between the sexes. Another aim is making environmental sustainability a priority.

Johnson & Johnson’s program is meant to improve life and increase life expectancy for women and children in more than 50 countries. The company said it aims to help up to 120 million women and children each year for the next five years.

The program has four components:

—Mobile Health for Mothers. More than 20 million expectant and new mothers in six developing countries — China, India, Mexico, Bangladesh, South Africa and Nigeria — will get mobile phone messages on prenatal health, reminders of clinical appointments and calls from health mentors. The company noted more than 1.1 billion women in poor and moderate-income countries already own a mobile phone.

—Intestinal Worms in Children. J&J will quadruple its current program, aiming to donate 200 million doses a year of mebendazole, a drug it makes to treat intestinal worms. The company expects to take two years to scale up the program in 30 to 40 countries. It includes education to help prevent reinfection in children after they are treated.

—Safe Birth Programs. Johnson & Johnson will expand its peer education programs for preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV; reducing birth asphyxia, a life-threatening condition caused by a lack of oxygen at birth; and upgrading health facilities to treat more women at risk of fistulas. Those are tissue ruptures, caused by problems in labor, that can trigger infections and incontinence.

—Research and Development Innovations. J&J will continue work on new HIV and tuberculosis treatments. It’s been developing what could be the first tuberculosis drug in 40 years with a new mechanism of action, as well as drugs to treat HIV and potentially prevent its transmission from pregnant women to infants, and new technologies that eventually could prevent HIV transmission between adults.

“These are areas where we see the greatest chance to make a difference in saving lives,” Weldon said.

Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said the intestinal medicine donation will be worth about $40 million to $45 million. The rest of the company’s donation will be in cash for the programs targeting mothers.

The company has not put a value on its HIV and tuberculosis drug research, which has been ongoing for years and could produce medicines that would be lucrative in Western countries.

Matthew Perrone contributed to this story

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