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GSK has teamed up with Comic Relief to improve the lives of millions of people in Africa and Asia. Engineer and GSK executive Andy Wright explains.
If engineer and GSK executive Andy Wright, 40, could have done anything he wanted, he’d have gone to work for a charity in Africa. But with a mortgage and children to feed, he did the next best thing – he started working in GSK’s philanthropic arm, and many years later is now vice president of Global Health Programmes.
He oversees partnerships with charities such as Save the Children and most recently, Comic Relief. “This has been an opportunity to make a difference to the lives of literally hundreds of millions of people,” he says.
In the latest partnership, GSK and Comic Relief will devote £22 million to fight malaria in Africa and Asia. At first sight it’s an unusual pairing – a feted charity backed by big names in entertainment and sport and a commercial healthcare company.
Malaria still claims nearly half a million lives a year, most of them young children in Africa
One of the greatest challenges, says Mr Wright, will be to build up trust: “We have to learn to work together as we want this to be a long term relationship. We need to better understand our respective skills and build up confidence that we are a good partner.”
With a £17 million donation from GSK and £5 million from Comic Relief, the partners will make grants to frontline organisations to fund measures designed to help cut the number of cases of malaria and deaths from the disease.
After studying different options, they’ve decided to take action in four African countries – Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Ghana and Tanzania, plus an area of South East Asia.
Comic Relief and GSK have selected countries where they think they’ll have the most impact; with guidance from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, they’ve identified nearly 30 effective strategies against the disease – these include net distribution and training healthcare workers to recognise the symptoms of malaria.
“Decisions about how much money is spent in each country will be made by Comic Relief, which has a unique profile as a charity,” says Mr Wright. “And we’ll collaborate as much as possible.”
Malaria still claims nearly half a million lives a year, most of them young children in Africa, and features high on GSK’s radar.
GSK and Comic Relief will devote £22 million to fight malaria in Africa and Asia
For 30 years, GSK researchers have worked to create a vaccine against malaria; this has now received a positive opinion from the European Medicines Agency and awaits recommendation from the World Health Organisation.
Thanks to better research, diagnosis, prevention and treatment, deaths from malaria have more than halved since 2000.
GSK has many long term partnerships with charities including a 10-year relationship with Save the Children focusing on helping the world’s most vulnerable children.
Additionally, the company has also teamed up with the likes of Vodafone to use mobile technology in poor African communities to help keep track of infant health and vaccinations.
For Mr Wright in his post at the wheel of these many partnerships, he’s a long way from his early days as an engineer in the oil and gas sector. “Engineering has ultimately led to a rewarding career,” he says.
“It’s a great route in – with managerial and project responsibilities – to get to many interesting roles. I’m very far from where I began, but the pharmaceutical sector is a great place to advance your career because there are powerful and successful companies which can invest in the skills of their staff.”