New York Times Examines Company Vestergaard-Frandsen’s Efforts To Provide HIV Tests, Other Products in Developing Countries
The New York Times on Tuesday examined the Danish company Vestergaard-Frandsen, which develops products such as insecticide-treated nets and portable water filters for use in developing countries. Kevin Starace, malaria adviser for the United Nations Foundation, said Vestergaard is "different from other companies" that develop similar products because it considers the "end user as a consumer rather than as a patient or a victim" by including features such as cell phone pockets on ITNs.
The company also has developed initiatives to increase HIV testing in developing countries. Last fall, a Vestergaard program in a western Kenya district provided an ITN, water purifier, 60 condoms and health education pamphlets to anyone who received an HIV test. About 50,000 people were tested at 30 clinics in the district, and the percentage of adults in the district who had been tested for HIV increased from less than 20% to more than 80% in one week, the Times reports. Although the initiative cost about $3 million, Mikkel Vestergaard-Frandsen, the company's CEO, said "it's the only demonstrable way besides door-to-door visits to get that response." He added that he hopes to publish data from the initiative in a medical journal so donors can consider contributing to the cost.
According to the Times, Vestergaard was founded 51 years ago to manufacture work uniforms. Vestergaard-Frandsen, who is the grandson of the founder, began focusing on relief efforts when he took over the company. Vestergaard-Frandsen also serves on the board of the Roll Back Malaria partnership and similar groups, where he often represents the business community, the Times reports. According to Starace, other ITN manufacturers often "send a product manager or a regional director to board meetings." Starace said that Vestergaard-Frandsen is "always the most audacious thinker in the room" and is "willing to roll up his sleeves or even throw his own employees at a problem." He noted that Vestergaard-Frandsen "lent Roll Back Malaria his chief financial officer to help it do better audits," adding, "Nobody else would do that."
The Times reports that the family-owned company does not disclose financial data but has sold 165 million ITNs and does make a profit. "Very few companies take the attitude that doing good is good money," Vestergaard-Frandsen said, adding, "They make a net, or they make a ceramic filter, and sell it. But make no mistake -- as soon as we've proven this is a good idea, they'll come in" (McNeil, New York Times, 2/3).