(New York) - Handwashing with soap saves lives. It is really that simple agree leaders from the private, NGO and academic spheres at an event this morning. As a child dies every fifteen seconds around the world, the time is now to bring solutions that save lives to scale.
“The cost of inaction is higher than the cost of action,” said Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever.
Polman was joined by economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, PSI CEO Karl Hofmann and Indian actress Kajol. The four called attention to the way that partnerships can accelerate programs like handwashing so that more lives are saved.
Unilever’s Lifebouy soap brand partners with PSI to run handwashing education programs in Kenya. A similar partnership with Sachs’s Millennium Villages Program further increases the reach and impact of handwashing.
“The 2008 crisis showed that while many people improved their lives, many were still left behind,” said Polman.
Lifebuoy’s Help A Child Reach 5 campaign aims to eradicate preventable deaths from diseases like diarrhea one village at a time, by teaching lifesaving handwashing habits. Hofmann praised the marketing abilities and reach of Unilever. He said that PSI was initially interested in learning from Unilever to improve PSI’s social marketing. The formal partnership that later developed showed just how NOGs can work with the private sector.
“As we look at the burden of disease, there’s naturally an overlap with the consumer goods marketing done by Unilever,” he said.
The idea was put into action when Lifebuoy launched its Help a Child Reach 5 handwashing campaign in Thesgora, a village in Madhya Pradesh with one of the highest rates of diarrhea in India. Lifebuoy has committed to teach Thesgora and the surrounding five villages the importance of handwashing at the five key occasions – and to help them sustain this habit. The initiative will increase the practice of handwashing with soap among children and therefore reduce the disease burden of child diarrhea.
Early results are exciting. The 6,000 people reached helped decrease the diarrhea incidence rate from 42% to 11% in a matter of six months. The next step will be to bring the program to the rest of the state and eventually all of India. Achieving that can be done through partnerships.
“Governments can find it hard to engage with programs that involve behavior change. Hygiene is an area which has been often overlooked. No business, government or UN agency can achieve the agreed reduction of child mortality alone, but by working together we can combine the expertise, resources and policy needed to achieve real change,” said Polman at the UN yesterday.
By working with Indian actress Kajol, Lifebouy hopes to reach more people. She described how simple it is for people to wash soap with their hands. Being a mother, she described a motivation to ensure that all children in India are able to survive and thrive.
Handwashing is working, they all agreed. Fewer kids are getting sick and fewer kids are dying. With the expiration of the MDGs around the corner, we must keep pressure up to include Water Sanitation and Hygiene in the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Polman said he did not believe that handwashing will be a goal itself Post-2015, but was optimistic that it can be a key part of improving health and ensuring that fewer children die each year.Read More