September 21, 2016

The Power of Partnerships for a Beautiful Future

Written by Chunmei Li, Director, Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact

Amazing things can happen when professionals come together to solve a major challenge. Let me tell you the story of the China Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) and Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) and what’s been possible, in part because of the power of professional associations.

Globally, up to 1 million children die from birth asphyxia every year. Like many global health challenges, it’s preventable and treatable with the right resources. Skilled health workers must be available, trained, and have immediate access to basic equipment in order to help a baby survive the golden minute and take his or her first breath of life.

Ten years ago, Johnson & Johnson joined forces with partners that included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Chinese government and Chinese professional associations, to address this major cause of newborn mortality in China, where the burden was particularly high. The China NRP aimed to reduce birth asphyxia by focusing on integrating neonatal resuscitation training and equipment within existing maternal and newborn health services.

Its ambitious goal was to make a trained professional available at every child’s birth. Special attention was paid to a multi-disciplinary collaboration involving obstetricians, pediatricians, nurses, midwives, and administrators so that the culture of collaboration can be carried on from training rooms to hospital bedsides.

The China NRP has saved more than 150,000 newborn lives to date.

The experience in China inspired Johnson & Johnson to partner with professional associations, country governments, NGOs to provide newborn resuscitation training and save newborn lives in 15 countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  To meet the needs of such diverse communities, many of the partnerships used Helping Babies Breathe, a simplified newborn resuscitation curriculum for low resource settings, which incorporated learnings from the China experiences.

At Partnerships for the Future, a UN General Assembly side event hosted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, my Johnson & Johnson colleague Joy Marini provided her insights on the power of partnerships. “On the ground partners are the ones who know what’s happening in their communities, and how best to address them,” she said. “It’s not always easy dealing with multiple partners who have conflicting priorities. But watching everyone come together to drive progress toward a shared goal can be a thing of beauty.”

George Nkhoma, a midwife from Chitipa District Hospital in Malawi, echoed Joy’s thoughts, calling on more collaboration to address the challenges before us. “We must come together as professionals, develop universal goals and work together.”

I couldn’t agree more. We must listen to each other, and be flexible in our approaches. And the result — thriving mothers and babies — is a thing of beauty. Sustainable Development Goal 17 focuses on the power of partnerships. The role of professional associations is beyond technical advisors. They’re among the best advocates for change I’ve seen. We already have living proof about what is possible when professional associations bring their strengths to the table to achieve the same end goal.