Beating Global Health Crises... With Business

VIDEO: Dr. Richard Besser takes a look at the threat to children and the need for aid.
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Bob McDonald, Gary Cohen and Chuck Slaughter spend much of their time in conference rooms, not operating rooms.

Like doctors, these U.S. business executives are dedicated to improving the health of women and children in the world's poorest countries. But unlike doctors, they wield the tools of modern business to aid some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

"Four thousand children die a day," because of bad water, said McDonald, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, a company whose cleaning, beauty, grooming, health and hygiene brands are mainstays in American homes. For the last six years, P&G has contributed 2.4 billion liters of clean water through its Safe Drinking Water Program.

This week, at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York, McDonald announced that P&G would expand the program to provide 2 billion liters of clean water a year by 2020 to people in 20 countries of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. One packet of its PUR powder converts 10 liters of dirty, potentially disease-causing water into a day's supply of potable water for a family -- for 10 cents per packet, including delivery, he said.

"A dime a day to stay alive. Not a bad deal," said former President Bill Clinton.

Asked what motivated this effort, McDonald told Clinton: "The Procter & Gamble company has been around for 172 years, and over that time, our purpose has always been to touch and improve lives all over the world. We think it's good business as well as good philanthropy, and consumers around the world today want to know what they're buying into when they spend their dollars for products."

He said the company has worked hard to tie some of its brands to causes, such as linking purchases of Pampers to donations of vaccines to eradicate tetanus.

The State Department has been working closely with P&G to provide water purification to areas of Pakistan devastated by the recent catastrophic flooding, according to Richard C. Holbrooke, the State Department's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He noted obstacles that must be overcome to assure that the packets get used to protect people from such devastating infectious diseases as dysentery.

One example:

Each packet of water purifier is meant for a 10-gallon jerry can, but when Holbrook visited a camp for displaced flood victims, he was told, "We can't use it, because we don't have 10-gallon jerry cans and if you put it into smaller containers, it smells of chlorine, so no one's using it."

Holbrooke said the solution was simple -- use part of the packet and save the rest -- but the State Department had to find ways to communicate that to illiterate Pakistanis who could not read instructions.

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"For me it is a mission," says Gary Cohen, executive vice president of Becton, Dickinson and Co. (BD), a medical technology company headquartered in Franklin Lakes, N.J. He said his overseas work has "no measurable commercial impact" on BD's business.

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