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Originally published Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 6:22 PM

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Corporations invest in global health

Less than 10 years ago, Coca-Cola was hiring two workers for every one job opening it had in Africa. That's because "they knew that one...

Seattle Times business reporter

Less than 10 years ago, Coca-Cola was hiring two workers for every one job opening it had in Africa.

That's because "they knew that one would get sick and die," said John Tedstrom, chief executive of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. "Talk about high overhead."

But after investing millions of dollars in education and prevention, employees are healthier, and the company's Africa business is thriving and a big part of its growth strategy.

Tedstrom spoke in Seattle Thursday at the Future in Review Global West Coast conference, focusing on technology advances and the challenges of energy, health and the environment. The conference is hosted by Mark Anderson, the Friday Harbor-based publisher of the Strategic News Service.

The coalition, a New York-based organization of more than 200 companies engaged in global health issues, is getting ready to expand to Seattle in the next month or two, Tedstrom said.

Such partnerships between business, philanthropy and the scientific community are yielding successful results, he said.

Malaria deaths have been reduced by more than 50 percent in some parts of Africa, for example.

Six years ago, only 50,000 people on the continent had access to antiretroviral drugs, he said. Today more than 5 million do.

The marketing savvy of corporations can be harnessed to help doctors solve problems of health education.

"These guys can sell anything to anybody," Tedstrom said. "They can sell safe sex."

But even with the progress, the current approach to global health has been too narrowly focused on specific diseases, he said, adding that more integrated health care is needed.

Tedstrom called women's health the No. 1 inequity in the world.

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"If we can move women from a position of being subservient to a position of empowerment, we will have moved the human race forward tremendously," he said.

The coalition is looking for more commitment from the "unexpected investors in global health," he said.

Some corporations are playing a role in global health to boost their image, while others see investments as a way to fulfill an immediate business need.

Either way, "if you structure this right, everybody wins," he said. "Eventually, you need less and less of the philanthropy."

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or kheim@seattletimes.com

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