Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

One Net One Pill One Life

These were the words of Forest Whitaker (academy award winner for his leading role in The Last King of Scotland) on tonight’s inspired 2nd annual two and half hour Idol Gives Back show which raised funds for six causes. Forest was the ambassador for Malaria No More, and definitely gave an emotional appeal for people to call in and donate money.

Earlier today I was lucky enough to be on a conference call with the medical director (Steven Phillips) for ExxonMobil’s foundation which is a major supporter and funder of the malaria component of tonight’s American Idol show. Phillips traveled to Angola twice this year, once with American Idol contestants and winners and the second time with Forest Whitaker to get them involved in combating malaria. I was joined on the call by Bill Brieger, professor at Hopkins and an expert in malaria, definitely check out his blog – Malaria Matters. Rob Katz of NextBillion and the Acumen Fund fame was the other “blogger” on the call.

According to Phillips, ExxonMobil teamed up with American Idol because they are the most watched TV show with over 30 million viewers and because their first experimental show last year was a huge hit. Exxon is reaching out to of course let their work be known and also because he feels that “one of major issues with malaria is that it (malaria) had historically been among one of most neglected diseases.” Their funding breakdown is: 25% for advocacy, 10% for R&D (e.g partnerships with MVI, MMV, others), and 65% for disease control (goes to African NGOs or iNGOs).

The Idol show had a blockbuster lineup, some of the celebs included: Bono, Alicia Keys, Heart, Brad Pitt, Robin Williams (who was beyond awful), Gloria Estefan, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and many others. One of the highlights was Gordon Brown, prime minister of the UK, making an appearance to announce the equivalent of $200 million in funding for bednets. The three presidential candidates were also supposed to make an appearance, but perhaps this got cut. For a great recap of the show check out Kristin’s post.

Last year the show raised $76 million, it will be interesting to see what happens after tonight. Despite various criticisms and those much more cynical than I, credit has to be given to all the corporate sponsors for reaching out… I’ll post more on this if I get a chance this weekend.

Written by Aman

April 9, 2008 at 8:31 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] Aman at Technology, Health & Development tells us how American Idol is raising millions to fight malaria. […]

  2. Rob – I agree with you, this is certainly is not a clear cut issue. I have seen other criticisms as well, particularly that if EM has been in Africa for over 100 years perhaps the amount of money pledged to the community is not enough. But what is enough, how do we measure this, who decides and who has the right to decide? This is something I have to think about as I don’t have any good comments off hand, but thank you for providing some balance.


    April 11, 2008 at 12:03 pm

  3. Thanks Aman, for this excellent wrap up. I thought the call was very useful as well, and will be writing about it as part of my coverage of World Malaria Day (April 25). It is always good to see money going to a once-anonymous cause (malaria) but there is a healthy level of skepticism that we all must maintain. For example, Exxon-Mobil operates in Equatorial Guinea, widely considered one of the most corrupt and oppressive regimes in all of Africa. The real question here is this: how does Exxon fund anti-malarial campaigns in Equatorial Guinea? If it is by supporting government programs, that’s probably not a good thing. If it’s by supporting international or local NGOs, that’s better, but how many NGOs operate openly in one of the most corrupt countries in Africa?

    I will address this more in my posts later this month, but I wanted to be sure to bring it up before the dust had settled from last night’s American Idol.


    April 10, 2008 at 8:17 am

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