Four Companies Working for the Common Good Instead of Profit

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I'm Faith Lapidus.  And I'm Steve Ember with Explorations in VOA Special English.  Today, we tell about four organizations that work for the common good instead of for profit.

There is an expression in the business world today:  "Money makes the world go around."  The cost of doing business and the profits that result are two main concerns for most companies.  But, not all companies share these concerns.  Some companies are working for the common good.  They are trying to help poor people around the world.  They care about people who suffer from health problems or live without electricity.  Among these companies are Nutriset, the Institute for One World Health, the Smile Train and the Solar Electric Light Fund.

Nutriset is a food company in France that makes all its products for humanitarian aid programs.  One of its most popular products used in emergency situations is made with peanuts, sugar, fats, minerals and vitamins.  It is called Plumpy'nut.

The American group Save the Children is using Plumpy'nut to help fight hunger among refugees in the Darfur area of Sudan.  The French product is also being used to feed children in Malawi, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  And, Plumpy'nut was used to help feed victims of tsunami waves in the Indian Ocean in December, two thousand four.

The substance can be given to families without the need to go to feeding centers.  It comes ready to eat.  It does not have to be mixed with water, the way dry milk does.  Clean drinking water is often in short supply in crisis situations.  Nutriset says Plumpy'nut can stay fresh for two years.  Individual servings are ninety-two grams.

Michel Lescanne started Nutriset in nineteen eighty-six to make food for humanitarian aid.  The company has a small factory in Malaunay, France.  It says it reinvests its profits into research and development.  Nutriset also makes products like dry milk that are traditionally used to fight hunger.  In times of crisis, the company will set up emergency operations twenty-four hours a day.

The Institute for One World Health is the first not-for-profit drug company in the United States. It is working to improve the health of the world's poorest people.  Victoria Hale started the company in two thousand.  The institute develops safe and low-cost medicines for people with infectious diseases in the developing world.

The Institute for One World Health identifies possible new drugs that have been developed but not fully tested.  Often, drug companies will research and develop medicines to treat diseases that affect poor people.  However, such projects often end because of a lack of money.

This is when Doctor Hale's company steps in.  The institute gains the rights to promising drugs and develops them into safe, effective medicines. The institute works with local organizations to manufacture and provide the drugs after they receive government approval.

One of the company's biggest successes was the drug paromomycin.  It is used to treat infections caused by organisms called parasites.

The Institute for One World Health believes paromomycin can effectively treat the most dangerous form of leishmaniasis.  This disease is spread by the bite of a sand fly insect.

Visceral leishmaniasis is the worst form of the disease.  One and one-half million people around the world are infected with the disease.  Victims will die if they are not treated.  Most victims of visceral leishmaniasis are in Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Nepal and Sudan.

The World Health Organization started testing paromomycin as a treatment for visceral leishmaniasis in two thousand one.  Small studies proved the drug was safe and effective.  However, larger tests comparing the drug with existing treatments were suspended because of a lack of money.

The Institute for One World Health then took action.  The company gained legal rights to paromomycin. It completed a full scientific study of the drug in India.  It did so with financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Tests proved that paromomycin works as well as a more costly drug currently used against visceral leishmaniasis.  The institute plans to seek approval for paromomycin in India.

Millions of children around the world suffer from an easily corrected medical condition called cleft lip.  A cleft is a separation in the lip of the mouth.  Children can also suffer from cleft palate.  That is a separation in the top of the mouth or the soft tissue in the back of the mouth.

Cleft lip or palate normally develops in the early weeks of pregnancy.  Researchers believe that genetic material passed on to children from their parents may cause cleft lip or palate.  Environmental influences like sickness, drugs, smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy may also cause the condition.

A simple operation performed on children between nine and eighteen months old can repair this condition.  Doctors say that without the operation children in developing countries are more likely to suffer a life of poor nutrition.  They also may suffer condemnation and separation from their communities.

The Smile Train is an American organization working to end this problem.  It provides local doctors in developing countries with training and equipment needed to perform cleft operations.  The Smile Train has services and programs in more than fifty countries.

Pakistan is one example.  The Smile Train has provided money, equipment and training to the Allied Hospital at the Punjab Medical College.  The organization has also provided equipment and training to Malaysia's medical community.  And in Bosnia and Herzegovina, The Smile Train has given the University Clinic Center in Sarajevo aid to improve its cleft care for poor children.

The organization was started in nineteen ninety-nine.  Every year since then, it has provided free cleft operations to more than thirty-five thousand children around the world.  Local doctors do the operations, which take as little as forty-five minutes.  The Smile Train pays for the operations with money it collects.  It says the average cost for the operation is about two hundred fifty dollars.

Some places in the world still do not have electric power.  In fact, a group called SELF estimates that about two thousand million people, or one in three, do not have electricity.  This American organization is working to change the situation.

SELF is short for the Solar Electric Light Fund.  It provides communities and governments with solar electric systems.  These systems use what is called photovoltaic technology to change sunlight into electricity.  The group says solar electric systems can be set up quickly in any village anywhere in the world.  And they are safe for the environment.

A small solar electric system can provide a home, school or health center with several hours of electricity each day.  Collectors placed on top of a building take in heat from the sun.  This energy is then sent to a storage battery used to power equipment.  A special charge controller is also needed to help direct the flow of electricity.

SELF has solar electric programs in many developing countries.  In South Africa, two schools along the country's east coast use solar electric systems for lighting, televisions and computer centers.  And in Brazil, scientists working in the Amazon rainforest use a solar electric system to power satellite communications equipment.  Researchers communicate with other teams working in the rainforest.

SELF says energy from the sun is the only dependable way to meet the electricity needs of poor villages.  Many communities still use candles, batteries and fuel-powered lights at night.  Health centers do not have power to keep medicines cold.  Schools have no electricity for copy machines or computers.

The group says solar energy, combined with wireless communications technology, can help bring less developed parts of the world into the twenty-first century.

This program was written by Jill Moss.  It was produced by Mario Ritter.  I'm Faith Lapidus.  And I'm Steve Ember.  Join us again next week for another Explorations in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

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