Connecting Sichuan
In May 2008, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck the Sichuan province in China. With over two minutes of shaking, the earthquake ended 87,150 lives and left an estimated five million people homeless.

The disaster could have turned the province into a poverty-stricken area, but it did not.

Immediately after the earthquake, international organizations such as the World Bank and many multinational corporations aided the Chinese government in restoring essential infrastructure, health and education services to pre-earthquake levels.

One of the major projects was Connecting Sichuan, a three-year, public-private partnership between the Sichuan Provincial People’s Government and multinational tech conglomerate Cisco.

As the project’s key stakeholder, Cisco contributed $45 million to the recovery, with a focus on providing universal healthcare in earthquake-damaged areas, demonstrating how a disaster might be turned into an opportunity for transformation and progress.

Even before the disaster, which devastated medical facilities, healthcare delivery was a problem in Sichuan. Sichuan’s per capita healthcare resources were below China’s national average.

In order to increase healthcare access to the rural population in earthquake-damaged areas, Connecting Sichuan established mobile health centers in Sichuan Province. Mobile health vehicles connect patients with medical experts located outside the immediate community. The mobile health centers employ advanced technology to improve patient care and build healthcare capacity.

Connecting Sichuan also built regional health networks to connect healthcare institutions in urban and rural areas and provide reliable connections to external organizations, such as the Provincial Department of Health and general hospitals in major cities. This shared resource model delivered improved services at much lower costs.

Starting in 2008, Connecting Sichuan successfully supported remote diagnoses between West China Hospital in the provincial capital of Chengdu and temporary field hospitals in Qingchuan and Dujiangyan, helping approximately 30 million people access reliable, affordable medical treatment.

Most importantly, the mobile health center in Sichuan lowered gaps in treatment quality between medical facilities based on geography and income. The project fostered local ownership, helping rural areas prosper.

A focus on healthcare solutions after the earthquake effectively drove workforce development and fueled job creation while attracting investment. The development of the mobile health center in Sichuan is compatible with the “Healthy China 2020” blueprint, which aims to deliver universal health care to all populations.

“Corporate social responsibility isn’t just about writing checks; it’s about looking at opportunities to develop solutions that address social needs in a responsible and transparent manner,” said Tae Yoo, Cisco Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs.

By helping disaster-wrought areas, Cisco gains much more than tangible economic benefits. All U.S. corporations should aspire to match the invaluable human impact Cisco had on Sichuan Province.

Yvie Yao

Photo: Flickr