How does it feel to meet one of your long-time heroes?
I had that opportunity last Friday when I met former US President Jimmy Carter for a 1:1 discussion. I was 20 years old when Carter became President, and I have deeply admired his relentless work for world peace, his contribution to world health, and his values as a human being. He won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2002, as a tribute to his many achievements.
GSK has decades-long history of contributing to improve the healthcare of children and families in the US and abroad, and we've had a long and productive relationship with the Carter Center.
In 1996, our company (well actually it was SmithKline Beecham, one of our heritage companies) hosted a dinner to honor President Carter with the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Award. At this dinner, we asked President Carter how we could make an impact on health. Key world health leaders had just been informed of albendazole's potential role in interrupting transmission of lymphatic filariasis (LF). Commonly known as elephantiasis, LF is one of the world's leading causes of permanent disability and disfigurement. Subsequent meetings and discussions led to the first agreements for our company to donate albendazole in a campaign to eliminate LF in 1998.
And, as they say, "the rest is history." Over a decade later, GSK has donated more than 2.7 billion doses of albendazole for the elimination of LF. Last year we extended our albendazole donation to help deworm some of the world's poorest children. Intestinal worms impose a huge disease burden among school age children in developing countries, often resulting in growth stunting, anemia, malnutrition and poor school performance. As a result of these donation programs, as well as many other activities, GSK is widely recognized as the leader in our industry for drug donation programs and contribution to global health.
President Carter was very welcoming when I walked into the room--I was treated to a warm embrace, and then we took a photograph together. When we sat down to talk, his first words were of thanks and appreciation to GSK for the many years of drug donations and support for global health. "Never has a company been more generous, or more committed, to global health," he said.
With enormous pride, I conveyed appreciation for this acknowledgement, and then went on to describe our ongoing and future efforts in global health.
During the 40 minutes that followed, we spoke about many topics, including
· the Carter Center's contributions to other tropical diseases (guinea worm and onchocerciasis) and its health care worker training program in Ethiopia (in which GSK also participates)
· the GSK PULSE program, and the possibility of volunteers working on Carter Center programs in the future
· the Carter Center's hosting the International Force for Disease Eradication, and the invitation for GSK to attend as an observer of these meetings
· the Carter Center's work and programs in conflict resolution, and a discussion of the applicability of these skills in the developing countries of the world
The meeting ended with an invitation to return with colleagues for future discussions, along with President Carter's reiteration of thanks and appreciation to GSK. And another hug! In the hours that followed, I met with senior staff at the Carter Center, for further discussions. And in the weeks ahead, I'll be following up with colleagues within GSK to act on some of these ideas.
Public/private partnerships with organizations like the Carter Center are essential in tackling these issues--especially in developing countries. It was a tremendous privilege for me represent GSK--to acknowledge and celebrate what has been achieved thus far, and to explore the possibility of doing more together--for patients and for our world.