Good Health Is the Cornerstone
Soon after Abbott first began working in Tanzania in 2000, leaders from the government and the company both realized there was a much broader opportunity for collaboration beyond community programs: strengthening the country's public health system. With few resources, deteriorating facilities and a shortage of trained health workers, there were immense barriers to care across the country – and a clear opportunity to apply Abbott's specialized expertise, and resources to advance good health and well-being (SDG Goal 3).
In his first visit to the country, Abbott Chairman and CEO Miles White met with Minister Abdallah to map out a plan.
"Anna Abdallah was an absolute rockstar to the people in that country. She was showing me what life was like for the people either with or without the disease in the rural areas. And she would tell me, here’s what you need to be thinking about, here’s what needs to happen, here are the kinds of things that need to be done," White said.
With a clear roadmap to focus on the health system, Abbott began to identify how it could apply its unique capabilities to find answers. Drawing on extensive expertise in diagnostics, infrastructure and engineering, the company and its foundation targeted work in two critical areas: upgrading treatment and care, and modernizing labs and technology.
Upgrading Treatment and Care
Through strategic partnership with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, Abbott was able to renovate the emergency medicine department at Muhimbili National Hospital and provide education and resources to create the hospital's emergency medicine residency program, the first of its kind in the country. Abbott volunteers shared their expertise in IT to improve data management systems, and in financial management to facilitate economic viability.
Abbott engineers also oversaw the building of a modern three-story outpatient center that serves more than 1,000 patients a day, providing general care for everything from infectious diseases like HIV and malaria, to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes and heart disease.
Modernizing Labs and Technology
With the same strategic approach and eye toward scaling sustainable improvements in care, Abbott diagnostics experts renovated the national lab building, and began an initiative to extend the reach of high-tech lab services across the country.
"I was out in some of the other surrounding cities in Tanzania where they had smaller regional labs. They could have the capability to do monitoring and testing – so we decided to redo those labs, all 23 of them in the regions," White said. "We used our own volunteers from Abbott – our own corporate engineering people and our own diagnostics employees to rejuvenate those labs around the entire country."
These labs are equipped to provide access to diagnostic testing and care for chronic and noncommunicable diseases and support more than 120 district hospital laboratories, improving healthcare for millions of people across the country.
"Abbott is an organization with focus that's unique," Abdallah said. "You talk to them, tell them a problem, what you want, and if it is within their reach, you get a solution that has no strings. They make sure the program is sustainable, and that Tanzanians are ready to take it on."
Beyond Health Care
Abbott saw an opportunity to complement work in healthcare by helping to strengthen communities in the country – work that aligns to several key goals, from decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), to quality education (Goal 4), to sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11).
Through the Building Livelihoods program, Abbott partnered with local communities to develop nine income-generation projects. For example, the program's dairy and nutrition project provides a cow to families who have taken in an orphan or have a child with disabilities. The milk from a cow provides much-needed nutrition to the children, but it also provides income when the family sells the surplus milk. When the cow births its first female calf, that cow goes to another vulnerable family, starting the cycle anew and spreading the impact across the community.
Abbott's paralegal project is another example of its contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals. Women and men in Tanzania's villages are trained as paralegals to assist their communities with key services that protect the rights of women and children, such as obtaining birth certificates and writing wills. The paralegal groups are further empowered with training in financial skills, record-keeping, business development and income management so they can start small businesses to earn income – which allows them to continue providing paralegal services for free.
The Building Livelihoods program has also enrolled people in health insurance and started co-ops for chicken farming, vegetable gardening and honey production. Beyond employment, nutrition and skills, the program's projects provide income that families can reinvest in children's education — another Sustainable Development Goal — and in improving household well-being.
Partnering for the Long Term
From the national level to the smallest villages, Abbott's robust partnerships in Tanzania have strengthened and accelerated sustainable development. And those partnerships are still going strong.
"Companies are motivated to do good things, but they don't always think about them as long-term, sustainable commitments," White said. "We've been in Tanzania twenty years now. We have never wavered, never left. We've made a full, sustainable, long-term commitment to Tanzania, and I think it made a difference. I like what we've been able to accomplish over 20 years, and hopefully we just keep living to that value."
*Editor's note: After a remarkable 21-year tenure, Miles White stepped down as Abbott's CEO on March 31, 2020. At that time, Robert Ford became the CEO of Abbott. Mr. White remains Abbott's Executive Chairman, serving on Abbott's Board of Directors