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Glaxo, Save the Children enter partnership

NAIROBI, Kenya  Not so long ago, Save the Children was among the charitable organizations attacking GlaxoSmithKline over the high prices of its AIDS drugs. Now the two are partners.

GSK is giving Save the Children $23 million to train healthcare workers, among other initiatives included in a five-year partnership with the charity which they say is intended to save the lives of 1 million children. Save the Children will also have a seat on a GSK research and development board for pediatric medicine.

The chief executives of the two groups visited a remote health clinic in Kenya on Thursday where they spoke to a mother who said she had three children die of diarrhea.

Justin Forsyth, the head of Save the Children, said the mother told him and GSK chief executive Andrew Witty that she was devastated by the deaths, but was happy that her 5-year-old daughter was getting treatment for pneumonia.

"That story is the story globally. We see far too many children dying from diarrhea, but we've also turned a corner," Forsyth said.

Witty said GSK, one of the world's leading drug makers, has been working to increase expanded access to medicine over the last five to six years, an approach he said has high shareholder support.

One initiative in the new partnership is to transform an antiseptic used in mouthwash into a lifesaving product to prevent infections when umbilical cords are cut. Another is an accelerated rollout of a child-friendly antibiotic used to treat pneumonia.

"We need to make sure we are making available to the best of our availability our strengths and talents not only for folks who live in rich countries but wherever there are needs," Witty said.

Forsyth said he used to campaign against GSK when "they kept the prices very high for AIDS drugs." But he said GSK has changed and is now at the forefront in terms of access to medicine and investment in malaria vaccines.

GSK can use the good publicity. Last year the Britain-based drug company pleaded guilty in the United States to criminal charges that it promoted its best-selling antidepressants for unapproved uses and didn't report safety data about a diabetes drug. It paid $3 billion in fines.