Save the Children's bid to save a million young lives

Rakima with her son Mohamed Aden at the Wajir District Hospital in north east Kenya. Credit: Save the Children

Save the Children and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline have joined forces to work on a project to tackle some of the leading causes of childhood deaths.

Among the key initiatives is the transformation of an antiseptic used in mouthwash into a life-saving product for new-borns and the roll-out of a powder-form of an antibiotic in child friendly doses to help fight pneumonia. The organisations say the collaboration could save the lives of a million of the poorest children in the world.

In an article for ITV News, Save the Children Chief Executive Justin Forsyth talks about the new project and the life-saving impact it could have.

There has been dramatic progress in preventing children from dying from treatable diseases over the past decade. The number of child deaths from malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and hunger, while still unacceptably high, is dropping every year.

Any reading of the figures is conclusive: in our fight to stop children dying needlessly, we’re making serious headway. But there are places where this progress is slower. One of those is Wajir, in northern Kenya.

That’s why we chose to launch our new partnership with the pharmaceutical company GSK from a dusty village there, in one of the poorest parts of Africa. Many children living in Wajir’s remote communities grow up without access to proper healthcare, and the result is an alarming number of children who die before their fifth birthday.

Wajir is a place that needs new solutions to old problems- infection, hunger and disease all take their toll on the children here. That is what our partnership with GSK is all about. Instead of simply taking money from a big company to fund our programmes, we’ll be working closely with GSK as they develop medicines, making sure they work for the poorest children in the world.

GSK will draw on our expertise in reaching the most vulnerable children to make sure that they have access to the latest medicines, as soon as possible. GSK’s chief executive, Andrew Witty, and I travelled to the village of Makoror in Wajir to meet the children who stand to benefit from our new way of working together. We found families in urgent need of simple, effective ideas and products to boost their life chances.

Nine-day-old Mohamad, held by his mother Fatuma, recently suffered from a life-threatening infection of his umbilical cord. Credit: Save the Children

Eleven-day old Mohamed is one of these children. Soon after he was born, his umbilical cord became infected. For many newborns in Wajir, this condition, easily treatable in rich countries, is deadly. Mohamed’s mother, Fatuma, applied a traditional remedy made from cow's fat to the cord, and as often happens, the infection became worse. After treatment from Save the Children teams on the ground, Mohamed is getting better now. Many other children are not so lucky.

But good news is on the horizon. Thanks to our new partnership with GSK, an antiseptic commonly found in mouthwash, will be reformulated as a gel for use in the developing world to prevent umbilical infections. The new gel could save hundreds of thousands of lives - not bad for a new version of a product many of us have in our bathroom cabinets.

Rakima with son Mohamed Aden at the Wajir District Hospital. Mohamed is severely malnourished and suffering from diarrhoea. Credit: Save the Children

After hearing of the problem of umbilical infection from aid agencies including Save the Children, GSK set about creating a simple, cheap and effective product that would save lives, and that’s exactly what they did.

As a blueprint for a new way of working, it is an excellent start. We believe together, GSK and Save the Children could save a million children’s lives in the next five years – and we hope we can achieve even more than that. Ultimately, we want to blaze a trail for a new way of charities and big companies working together to solve the problems of poverty and hunger. After all, if we can stop children dying with mouthwash, what other unexpected answers might we find, if only we ask the question in the right way?

Justin Forsyth is the Chief Executive of Save the Children. For further details about the charity, visit its website.

His views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.

  • Watch Rageh Omaar's report from Wajir on tonight's ITV News at Ten