Innovating to save lives

How we are innovating to reach our goal

Written by Lisa Bonadonna


In partnership with Save the Children we have set ourselves an audacious goal. Working together, we hope to help save one million children’s lives by 2018. Lisa Bonadonna, head of the partnership at GSK, talks about a product innovation under development, which we hope will help reach this ambitious target.

5.9 million

Currently, 5.9 million children under the age of five die from preventable diseases every year.

The GSK–Save the Children partnership was created to have a lasting impact on child mortality rates by addressing some of the urgent needs facing the world’s poorest children. It was designed with the specific intention to go beyond traditional charity-corporate models, combining each organisation’s respective skills and expertise to help save the lives of one million children by 2018. I’m pleased to say that two and a half years into our partnership we are making progress. To date we have screened over 1.2m children for malnutrition; fully immunised nearly 24,000 under-fives; and treated over 54,000 children for diarrhoea, malaria or pneumonia.

In my mind, one of the many innovations currently in development at GSK truly demonstrates what makes this partnership so different.  Each year, one-third of neonatal deaths worldwide (1.5 million) are due to infection, and many of them begin as umbilical cord infection.  This can happen when a newborn’s umbilical cord is cut and becomes infected through use of non-sterile instruments or perhaps as a result of cultural practices that aim to promote the healing of umbilical wounds, using inappropriate materials, such as oils, mud or even dung. Under our partnership with Save the Children, our scientists have worked to reformulate an antiseptic ingredient called chlorhexidine, which is commonly used in mouthwash, into a gel so that it can be applied to freshly cut umbilical cords to prevent infection.  

Normally, a medicine development programme can take ten years or more, but everyone involved is working hard to make this needed medicine available as quickly as possible. Applying our research and development expertise in this way is a wonderful example of what we’re trying to do through the partnership. We are using our scientific and business know-how to address the life-threatening issues facing children that Save the Children tackle every day.

Throughout my career I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in many diverse, multi-layered programmes locally, regionally and also globally. The scale and scope of this partnership is, however, the first time I have seen two so very distinct organisations working together across such a broad range of activities, truly collaboratively.

Naturally, a long-term partnership of this type comes with many obstacles and complexities, and I have found the willingness of GSK and Save the Children to face these together remarkable. Our creativity and desire to ‘muck in’ and find solutions far exceeds anything I’ve experienced before. Nobody has ever said this challenge is too difficult. They just say, “We’re going to do everything possible to make it happen”.

For me, the challenge is invigorating, exhausting and inspiring, all at the same time. Our efforts so far have touched the lives of one million children and I look forward to years ahead where the partnership will be able to say we have helped to save the lives of one million children. 

Head of Partnership, GSK

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