Friday, October 8, 2010

What does Syrah wine have to do with pneumonia?

NEW YORK, NY — In June, New York Times Wine Critic Eric Asimov started his wine column with a joke: “What’s the difference between a case of syrah and a case of pneumonia? You can get rid of the pneumonia.”

That column, which analyzed why American Syrah wine, which can be superb, had never achieved much success, has led to one of the strangest partnerships in global health — a coalition fighting child pneumonia and the Rhone Rangers, America’s leading non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines such as Syrah.

Last month, I witnessed the partnership in a wonderful event in the New York Times Center here on the first day of the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals cleverly marketed as “Pneumonia’s Last Syrah,” a wine reception and photography exhibit, which displayed striking images and stories that provided a window into the human face of pneumonia and the burden of the disease.

After sampling the wares of the 12 Syrah producers present at the event (11 from California, one from Virginia) , which were all excellent, the audience was educated about pneumonia:

* It is the leading cause of death among children under 5, with more than 1.5 million dying from it every year.

* Vaccines against two of the main causes of life-threatening pneumonia are used throughout the developed world. However, millions of children in developing countries still lack access to these vaccines.

* Life-saving antibiotic treatment for serious pneumonia typically costs less than one dollar. However, only an estimated one of every five children with pneumonia receives antibiotics.

Wine Critic Asimov, who helped ferment this partnership, spoke at the reception, saying he was humbled to be part of such a significant issue while he usually spent his time worrying about nothing more than excessive oakiness in chardonnay.

The Global Coalition against Child Pneumonia, made up of more than 100 organizations, will mark World Pneumonia Day on Nov. 12 to bring attention to pneumonia and promote policies that will prevent the millions of avoidable deaths.

The Global Coalition suggests five things people can do to take action. One of those things is to buy a case of American Syrah wine during the month of November from one of these producers, and they will donate $10 to provide pneumonia vaccines to children in the world’s poorest countries.

This will help save the American Syrah wine industry, but it will produce the even happier effect of saving the lives of children who might have died from pneumonia.

Disclaimer: I won a large bottle of Syrah wine in the raffle at the event but these opinions were in no way influenced by that fact. I was going to write this anyway.

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