Fonterra has donated $8.4m ($US 5m) to a Chinese charity to establish a health care programme for mothers and babies in poor rural areas.
“We want to do what we can in China to help, particularly in areas around infant health and maternal issues,” Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier, told NZPA.
He today signed a memorandum of understanding in Beijing with China Soong Ching Ling Foundation secretary Li Ning to fund the programme over five years.
It will set up community centres in rural and underveloped areas, with tools and resources to support prenatal and postnatal care, and provide information to ensure healthy pregnancies and babies.
Babies in poor and rural areas were some of the first reported to be affected by melamine-contaminated infant milkpowders sold by Fonterra’s Chinese joint venture, Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group Co, in which it held a 43 percent stake.
For more than a week reports on the numbers of babies who had become ill had remained at four dead, 12,892 infants in hospital, 104 with serious illness, and close to 40,000 others affected but not needing major treatment.
But Reuters reported this week the number of affected children has risen to nearly 94,000, 46,000 of them in Hebei province, where Sanlu is based, and neighbouring Henan province.
But Mr Ferrier said the $US5m donation was a gesture which should stand on its own as a reflection of the tragedy: it was not trying to link it to the milk contamination.
“Being associated with healthy food to infants…in the environment of this huge tragedy that has happened across the country, we thought that this would be a small gesture that Fonterra could show the broader Chinese community that we really care about children and their health,” he said.
“If we can help Soong Ching Ling Foundation particularly help infant health in rural areas where there’s the most poverty, that’s a great place to be helping out.”
The foundation already has a successful project for the safety of mothers and infants.
The new programme will build maternal and infant community hubs in China’s rural and underdeveloped communities, and will include exchange and teaching programmes to help give local health workers, obstetrical and paediatric doctors, and nurses in rural areas new opportunities to learn best practices in healthcare.
Fonterra has been the biggest exporter of milkpowder to China for 20 years and Mr Ferrier said it was strongly committed: “We are part of Chinese society”.
Sanlu was one of 22 companies which had its milk poisoned by melamine and because it is seen as a Chinese problem, Fonterra’s reputation has not been affected. However, as a shareholder, I am pleased the company is making this donation to help the people and I hope that the best practices include the advice that breast milk is best for babies.