ColaLife: Innovation to Reduce Child Mortality

Thinking inside the box.

When he visited remote areas in Zambia in 1988, Simon Berry was struck by the fact that one in five children died before their 5th birthday. The second most often identifiable cause of death was diarrhea, an absolute shame, because it’s easy to treat with oral rehydration therapy. Simple treatments were usually unavailable to save children’s lives, yet everywhere he looked, Coca-Cola was easy to find, whether brought in by SUV, bus or bicycle.

Credit: Tim Dench

Today, Berry is co-founder and director of ColaLife, together with his wife, Jane. Based in the UK, they produce AidPods, innovative packages that clip into the empty spaces between bottles in a crate of Coca-Cola. AidPods contain oral rehydration salts, zinc supplements to help prevent recurrence, soap to encourage hygiene and a SODIS plastic bag to provide a method for sterilizing water.

While the under-five child mortality rate has improved somewhat in the last decade, it is not tracking anywhere near achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goal, a reduction by two-thirds from 1990-2015. In his TEDxBerlin talk, Berry states that today there is only a 38% chance of finding basic drugs in a remote village clinic. He says, “We need to reduce child mortality by finding new, creative solutions through unlikely alliances – collaborations across private and public sectors, local public health authorities and non-governmental organizations alike.”

A pilot test program will start in Zambia this Fall, to run for a minimum of 18 months. ColaLife must create awareness and value for AidPods, so that there is a demand for their distribution. The pilot will provide the opportunity to field test distribution logistics, using Coca-Cola’s existing network of independent bottlers, distributors and wholesalers.

Berry says, “We know from other research, if people have to go and get anti-diarrheal treatment from a clinic that is 30- 60 km away, that severely reduces the likelihood of them treating that child. What’s worse is that people wait, then put the child on their back to make the trip and the child just doesn’t make it.”

The Coca-Cola Company is a trusted partner in support of the Zambia pilot program, but it is up to ColaLife to get all of the local partners on board, including bottlers like SABMiller, Coca-Cola’s largest worldwide bottler.

Open source collaboration has been critical to the progress ColaLife has made to date. Berry says, “It’s made the idea better through challenge and collaboration, it’s attracted experts, it’s given us the power to talk to the big players we need on our side.” Social media and the digital age have also made ‘crowdfunding’ ColaLife possible.

CONNECT THE DOTS

See this video of Simon Berry at TEDxBerlin explaining how ColaLife works. Follow the ColaLife Blog for the latest news on the pilot program. Visit United Nations Millennium Goals to learn more about global initiatives to end poverty by 2015.

Originally published on GE Healthy Outlook, June 9, 2011.

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