GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) - GSK emergency response: Ebola virus disease

The International Disaster Relief Award, supported by the UK Department for International Development, Winner 2015, Reaccredited 2016.

GSK's humanitarian response to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa included cash and product donations, increased investment in frontline health workers, and accelerated development work on a vaccine.

What the judges thought

  • GSK’s Ebola response addressed, in a holistic way, a complex disaster that severely challenged the international community’s ability to respond.
  • GSK demonstrated extraordinary ability to adapt and innovate to meet urgent needs in an evolving disaster.

Social and business benefits

  • The combined value of GSK's product and cash donations was £1.2 million. £450,000 of this was cash, and £770,000 was the value (wholesale acquisition cost) of product donations, which reached at least 40,000 patients.
  • GSK invested £350,000 to deliver essential health services, scale-up investment in frontline health workers' capacity and reduce the spread of the Ebola virus with Save the Children.
  • The response helped to keep supply chains open, to deliver medicines to patients.
  • Partnerships and open dialogue with stakeholders reinforced GSK’s leadership role in the health industry and private sector.
  • Collaborative working internally and with external global health specialists led to scientific breakthroughs in vaccine research, development and manufacture.

In brief

GSK logoGSK was among the first organisations to respond to the West Africa Ebola crisis in March 2014 and continually adapted and innovated as the disaster evolved.

It mobilised an extraordinary, comprehensive and coordinated response including donations, volunteer experts and investments in frontline health workers, working with a vast range of partners including NGOs, governments and commercial competitors.

As a result the company has also accelerated the development of an Ebola vaccine, from ten years to ten months, and this is currently being used by 30,000 people in Liberia.  GSK has pushed the boundaries on how business can address unprecedented and complex disasters.

The story in detail

Ebola was such a major issue for the world, and it was far from clear how to deal with it. GSK went above and beyond the norm to respond to this crisis. A great example of what the private sector can do to support international disaster relief when it brings to bear all the skills, expertise and capabilities that it has to offer.

- Dylan Winder,
Head of Humanitarian Policy and Partnerships, UK DFID, Chair of judges
Humanitarian response is a fundamental strand of GSK's Global Health Strategy, which focuses on access to healthcare and improving healthcare infrastructure. The company was among the first organisations to respond to Ebola, in March 2014.

GSK and the Ebola response

As of 10th January 2015, the Ebola outbreak had led to 8,371 deaths, 13,397 laboratory-confirmed cases and 21,171 total cases. Many more people have been affected by the impact on the healthcare systems in the affected countries.

Using an established strategy with expert partners, GSK was able to mobilise a multifaceted response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. This included donations, investments in frontline health workers, accelerated work on an Ebola vaccine candidate, and working with NGOs and governments to advocate a strategic and scaled-up response across the global health community. GSK also took steps to ensure business continuity in-country, working with others to keep supply chains open, and ensuring employee safety.

GSK worked collaboratively with a range of external stakeholders to respond to the unprecented challenge of the Ebola crisis, including the World Health Organisation, Ministries of Health, supply chain partners, investors, business partners, local communities and customers. GSK drew upon long-standing partnerships with Ministries of Health and NGO partners to establish appropriate interventions for treating patients and implementing wider community healthcare strategies.

Candid dialogue and openness to requests for resources, allowed flexibility in a rapidly evolving crisis. The expedited Ebola vaccine candidate development was delivered through work with an international consortium which includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the EU Commission and the UK Government.

GSK's strategic framework and range of treatments

GSK had an established and strategic framework for emergency response, managed centrally by a Global Health Programmes team. It has a standard operating procedure to guide on the course of action in the first 24 hours following a crisis. Building on this, an Ebola Issues Management Team was convened to implement a comprehensive and coordinated response plan.

GSK has a portfolio of medicines appropriate for treating Ebola patients. Through a medicine donation programme, partners were able to release pre-positioned GSK medicines already in their warehouses. GSK also made available its inventory for further requests. For example, broad-spectrum antibiotics were used to treat Ebola patients who developed serious bacterial infections. These medicines also enable hospitals to remain open and treat patients with other conditions such as malaria, diarrhoea and measles.

The power of GSK's people

Along with a humanitarian programme of cash and product donations, employee volunteers provided hands-on specialist knowledge in logistics and medical diagnostics to support humanitarian partners. A bench scientist was deployed to a Save the Children facility in Kerry Town, Sierra Leone to bolster the diagnostic capacity of the Ebola response in February 2015 through a joint Public Health England-DFID initiative. Through the GSK employee volunteer scheme, a GSK Nigeria employee was assigned to Direct Relief to help with their logistics.

GSK already had a global commitment to investing in frontline health workers, with programmes under way with Save the Children in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. As part of the Emergency Response, GSK donated a further £350,000 to increase the resources available to scale up capabilities and capacity, with a particular focus on community education.

As one of the world’s leading vaccine suppliers, GSK was in a position to focus considerable resource on accelerating the research, development and manufacture of an Ebola vaccine candidate. An R&D process that averages 10 years was reduced to 10 months and the first batch of the Ebola candidate vaccine was shipped to Liberia in January 2015.

What GSK's CEO said:

“It sounds trite, but you simply have to do the right thing. We have a technology. It turns out we’re the leader, in terms of timing, on this particular vaccine for Ebola. The right thing for us to do was to commit all of our energies to make this happen. We’re doing that, we’ve taken risks. We’ve taken decisions without being asked and we’ve made decisions without any guarantee of compensation. I think that’s the right human response to this crisis.” - Andrew Witty, CEO

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