GSK: Chlorhexidine project

A partnership between GSK and Save the Children has led to the development of new products, such as chlorhexidine antiseptic gel for cleaning umbilical cords, which are improving child health in the developing world.

The challenge | What they did | The impact

GSK and Save the Children formed an ambitious five-year partnership to save the lives of one million children by tackling child mortality.  By combining their expertise, the partners have developed new products designed for the conditions of low-income countries.

What was the challenge?

Across the developing world, and particularly where people have low incomes and live in remote areas, newborn babies are at risk of death from infection.  This can be caused by bacteria entering their body through their newly-cut umbilical cord.  It's more common in poorer areas across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where home births are common and traditions include using unsterile materials like dung and ash on the umbilical cord stump.

Many babies' lives could be saved by giving mothers a way to get hold of an easy, safe and accessible antiseptic to use on umbilical cords.  In 2012, a UN report named an antiseptic called chlorhexidine, an antiseptic ingredient found in a GSK mouthwash, as an overlooked "life-saving commodity" for newborn cord care.  If used more widely, it could potentially save 422,000 newborn babies' lives over five years.1 But this ingredient did not exist in a [format] suitable for use in low-income global communities.

What GSK and Save the Children did

Through their partnership, GSK and Save the Children have accelerated the reformulation of chlorhexidine to a gel that can be used to clean umbilical cords, and prevent infections that can lead to fatal sepsis in newborn babies.

Combining Save the Children's experience in reaching some of the most vulnerable and marginalised children with GSK's scientific research and development expertise, the partners have developed a product tailored for use in hard-to-reach communities. The gel is formulated to be stable in high heat and humidity, avoiding the need for refrigeration and so making it easier to distribute to remote communities.  It is packaged in individual single-use sachets which can be opened without scissors.  Pictoral instructions are included on the sachet and packaging to show mothers who may not be able to read how to apply the gel correctly.

The gel was granted a positive scientific opinion from the European Medicines Agency.  GSK is now submitting local regulatory applications for the gel in a range of low-income countries where it is needed.  Once approval is granted, GSK will offer the gel at a not-for-profit price, giving more people access to this medicine.

The impact

By working in partnership, GSK and Save the Children have had a much greater impact than either could achieve alone.  Since 2013, they have directly reached 1.3 million children with lifesaving interventions.

The partnership has given GSK valuable insights.  In the case of the chlorhexedine project, this has helped it create a much more user-friendly end product.  Additionally, the experience of the regulatory processes, launch and supply of chlorhexidine has given GSK insight into the best approaches to take for future products intended for the developing world.

The partnership also helped GSK access expertise that will inform future drug development project on maternal and neonatal health.

More about GSK

Official UK GSK website

GSK's Save the Children Partnership webpages

GSK profile on the Business in the Community website

Case study: GSK-Save the Children Partnership - Finalist in the Unilever Global Development Award 2016


1  United Nations. UN Commission on life-saving commodities for women and children, 2012.



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