Monday, April 27, 2009

Good Works: Pampers global outreach for moms in need

As noted in an earlier post, I attended a blogger event at Pampers' headquarters in Cincinnati last week. (Yes, Pampers, as in diapers.) As I'm thankfully beyond my kids' diaper days, I wasn't as interested in the latest advances in diaper technology (and there are many) as I was in the company's efforts to improve maternal and fetal health in some of the most desperate parts of the world. Of the three Pampers-specific programs I'll write about here, only one involves the direct sale and marketing of diapers abroad, but even that campaign has positive public health benefits. (I have a master's in public health so I was impressed to see a global corporation working within a public health perspective.)

1) Pampers & UNICEF: Tetanus is one of the leading causes of maternal and infant mortality in the world. We don't worry much about tetanus here in the U.S. because we get vaccinated as kids (the
DPT shot) and receive boosters during adulthood. But in less developed nations women routinely give birth in unsanitary surroundings: babies and moms are touched by unclean hands, they lay on filthy floors, umbilical cords are cut with dirty knives and even sugar cane stalks. An estimated 130,000 babies and 30,000 women die from pregnancy-related tetanus infections each year.

To help prevent such deaths, Pampers has teamed with UNICEF to vaccinate
women who are pregnant or of childbearing age. (Immunity from the mother will protect the infant at birth.) Much of the Pampers/UNICEF outreach has occurred in Sierra Leone, where, according to the aid organization White Ribbon Alliance, a woman has a 1 in 7 chance of dying during childbirth. In most developed nations the odds are about 1 in 50,000.

Since its partnership began in 2006, the Pampers/UNICEF program has administered
45 million vaccines. Another 30 million are expected this year. The program is referred to as 1 Pack = 1 Vaccine (as in the sale of one pack of diapers funds one vaccine) and actress Salma Hayek (right) is the effort's celebrity spokesperson. (Remember the ridiculous uproar earlier this year about Hayek nursing a hungry baby whose mother didn't have enough milk? That encounter occurred during her Pampers/UNICEF trip to Sierra Leone.)

2) Pampers/Johns Hopkins "Birth Kits" for Nepal: In conjunction with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Pampers infused its
disposable baby wipes with medical sanitizers for use during home births in Nepal. The kits have helped improve the mortality rates among premature and low-birthweight babies.

3) The "Cloth-like Dry-Dry" Chinese Diaper: China is a huge market for U.S. companies (and vice versa). But a diaper Pampers sells in China was specifically developed for—and with—poor families that can't afford disposable diapers and, due to cultural norms, likely wouldn't use them.

Babies in China are often diaperless, and when they are diapered the diaper is typically made from a few flimsy layers of cloth, such as scraps from a T-shirt or bedsheet.
Aside from the ensuing mess, the problem is that when a baby wears a thin cloth diaper at night, he or she wakes up a lot for changes.
(As often as 4 or 5 times a night.) Because Chinese families often sleep in very tight quarters, when baby wakes up, everyone wakes up. Hygiene and infections are also a concern, since cloth diapers are hard to clean well (especially if the local water is polluted) and a diaper's wetness sits directly against a baby's skin, which can cause rashes and infections.

To address the sleep problem of new parents Pampers researchers spent two years working with hundreds of families in a rural area of Northern China to develop a thin, low-cost, clothlike overnight diaper specifically for the Chinese market. The diaper, called "Cloth-like Dry-Dry," is now being sold in China and India. Parents typically buy one diaper at a time (each is equivalent in cost to the price of an egg) and only use the disposable at night, when everyone—including the baby—needs a good stretch of sleep.

Fama Francisco
, Pampers' general manager of global baby care innovations, showed the diaper to me and my fellow bloggers. It's impressively thin, yet sturdy. Pampers isn't selling the diaper in the U.S., in part out of concern that American consumers would reject it. Americans like thicker diapers, with reusable tabs, wetness indicators, cartoon characters, etc. Those features aren't available in the low-cost, plain white "Dry-Dry" diaper. I hope the company does try to market the simpler, smaller (hence it takes up less space and resources) diaper here. The blogger parents in our meeting said they would try it. Do we really need Elmo and Dora and wetness indicators on our diapers?

Speaking of diapers, we had several discussions at the event about the environmental impact of cloth vs. disposable diapers. In a nutshell, both have environmental impact, either on water systems (cloth) or adding to landfills (disposable), and both have significant pros and cons. In a way, the only way not to feel guilty about the consequences of your diapering choice is to do as many cultures do and not diaper, which means children just "go" where they go, and parents with good instincts and fast reflexes hold babies over toilets or pots at just the right moment.

Well, that's enough potty talk for now. If you're still in diapers (so to speak) and want to learn more about the aforementioned outreach efforts—or get coupons and frequent buyer breaks for the Pampers brand—visit


Lucy said...

I'm glad Pampers does more than just sell diapers. We take pregnancy and childbirth for granted here, as if it's no big deal, but pregnancy and childbirth can be dangerous. I had three c-sections, due to my babies being turned the wrong way, my blood pressure, fetal distress, etc. I probably would have died in childbirth a hundred years ago, or if I were living in an undeveloped country. My kids probably wouldn't have made it either. Image 1 in 7 women dying in childbirth. That's unimaginable. It's also unimaginable that in your other post Matt's wife Liz died the way she did the day after giving birth to their daughter. So sad.

On a lighter notes, those Chinese diapers sound interesting. We really do overdo it for our babies. They don't need Elmo and Dora and all the other things that are marketed at little kid.

Daniela said...

Are pampers dangerous for legs' structure?

Melissa said...

I haven't heard that, but during the Pampers tour we were shown how the thickness (i.e. bulk) of diapers has been reduced greatly since the introduction of disposable diapers four decades ago. So I'm guessing if it was problem for leg structure it was for past generations of babies (such as today's parents) than current babies.


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