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The Role of Pampers in Reducing Maternal Neonatal Tetanus

Today, the cases my team has written about the Pampers and UNICEF partnership to defeat maternal neonatal tetanus are being released to the public. I have been involved with this project for two years now. I learned a lot about the potential for public/private partnerships to address key social problems, but also a lot about the challenges that they face in terms of making different organizational cultures work together, addressing different external pressures, and so on. The two things that most impressed me about the experience, though, are the continued risk of maternal mortality and the power of women to fight our own issues through consumer activism. We think of death in childbirth as a thing of the past in the West, but the risk of dying from an assortment of complications and infections is still very real in the developing world. Tetanus is one cause—but even that is related to larger picture of unclean birthing conditions and insufficient health care delivery. When I was in Uganda for an extended period in August, I read in the paper that 16 women die every day in childbirth there. The columnist commented that “it doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up.” I was staggered. It really seemed like a lot to me. The brilliance of the Pampers/UNICEF campaign was the way it harnessed the sympathies of new mothers in the developed countries on behalf of women in the poor nations. When I researched Fresh Lipstick, I learned about the long tradition of consumer activism invented and refined by the first wave of the feminist movement in America. The Second Wave, unfortunately, abandoned that very effective strategy as part of an overall antipathy to capitalism and its products. It is a big loss. While I really wish people would stop reducing women’s economic power to their purchasing, it is nevertheless true that, as the majority force in consumption across most product categories, we have a tool at our disposal that most world institutions will sit up and notice. We need to make better use of it. The Pampers/UNICEF campaign, which will eliminate MNT by 2015, is a great illustration of the magnitude of outcomes such strategies can achieve.

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