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Peter Chernin Expands Effort to End Malaria in Africa

Peter Chernin: 16 projects sold
Jemal Countess/Getty Images
Peter Chernin

Chernin's group, Malaria No More, will unveil its most ambitious effort yet -- a campaign to use social and mobile media to help eliminate the deadly disease in Africa.

A made-in-Hollywood initiative will roll out a campaign in New York this week to enlist new media and cutting-edge drug technology to eradicate an ancient scourge -- malaria.

Seven years ago, former News Corp. COO Peter Chernin co-founded Malaria No More, an organization that works to end malaria deaths in Africa, where the mosquito-borne disease is an endemic killer of children. Teaming up with a range of entertainment and new media firms, Chernin's group will unveil its most ambitious effort yet, a campaign to use social and mobile media to help eliminate malaria in Zambia. The ultimate goal is to proceed from country to country to tackle the ancient disease in much the same way that smallpox and polio were eliminated.

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"I always felt that in many ways malaria is the great humanitarian opportunity that exists in the world," Chernin told THR. "To the degree that you are looking to influence people's lives in the world, there is no greater opportunity than malaria. It remains one of the largest killers of children. And yet if we can deliver these treatments, you can immediately save people's lives."

The new campaign, which is called Power of One, calls on the public to make a $1 donation to provide a life-saving test and treatment to a child in Africa. The effort will use mobile technologies in ways that have the potential to revolutionize the fight against malaria in the developing regions hit hardest by the disease. Hand-held mobile communication technologies and social media are widely used in developing African countries, where landline media always was too expensive to take hold. Malaria No More CEO Martin Edlund is speaking this week at the MDG Innovation Forum and at Mashable's Social Good Summit about how the innovative use of technology can make malaria the “first disease beaten by mobile.”

With his extensive media connections, Chernin -- whose recently formed Chernin Entertainment  produces a slate of movies and TV shows, including Fox's New Girl and Rise of the Planet of the Apes -- was able to put together an all-star coalition. Among the companies participating in the Power of One campaign are Novartis -- the global leader in manufacturing pediatric antimalarial drugs -- Alere Inc., 21st Century Fox, AHAlife.com, Causes.com, Time Warner, Twitter, Venmo and others. Novartis will donate up to three million full courses of its pediatric antimalarial drug and will support the campaign financially over the next three years.

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Over the past seven years, Malaria No More and other groups working in Africa have lowered malaria deaths by 35 percent. "There are 400,000 kids a year who are alive now who wouldn't be alive before," Chernin said. "That's a remarkable thing."

But more needs to be done. Every minute a child somewhere in the world dies of malaria, said Edlund. Each year developing African nations south of the Sahara lose an estimated $12 billion in potential economic activity to malaria outbreaks. With every dollar donated to Power of One's website -- Po1.org -- the group will fully fund a life-saving course of treatment for a child in Zambia. That country has been chosen as the Power of One campaign’s first national target because already it is one of the best examples of innovation and progress in the battle against the disease and Malaria No More is on the ground working with the government and other partners to provide treatments for children with malaria.

“It’s unacceptable that a child dies every minute for lack of malaria treatment that costs less than a dollar,”said Edlund. “We’re challenging the world to help us fix that through the Power of One campaign where users can donate, track and share impact, and engage their friends using the latest mobile tools. One dollar really can save a life.”

To help engage the public, the campaign's top media partners, 21st Century Fox and Time Warner, will begin airing campaign PSAs and digital ads nationally this week on broadcast channels, cable networks, radio stations and popular websites.

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"It used to be that you needed to take a blood test and then look at that blood test under a microscope in order to determine if someone had malaria," said Chernin. "Over the past five or six years, 'rapid diagnostic testing,' similar to an insulin test, has been developed. With just a pinprick, the thing reads out immediately on whether or not a person has malaria." The results are then mapped, giving health care workers real-time information on new outbreaks.

"Malaria tends to be somewhat seasonal," said Chernin. "If you can go in there, SWAT-team-like, and really attack that area, you can tamp it down."

The ultimate goal, said Chernin, is to eliminate deaths from malaria. "We have the cure and we know it works. We're so proud of the progress we've made in the past six or seven years. If we keep going and we keep our foot on the accelerator and keep focused, we could cure this disease. That would arguably be one of the great humanitarian victories of all time."