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Unilever, Earth Institute Partner on Fifth Anniversary of Global Handwashing Day

A handwashing demonstration in Sylhet, Bangladesh for Global Handwashing Day Image credit: MaMoni

Unilever and the Earth Institute announced a new initiative to bring handwashing with soap to the Millennium Villages, a project that works with nearly 500,000 people in rural villages across 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in New York today on the fifth anniversary of Global Handwashing Day.

The partnership supports Unilever’s goal to deliver on one of its commitments under its Sustainable Living Plan — to help more than one billion people take action to improve their health and well-being. Over the past two years, Unilever has successfully changed the handwashing behavior of 50 million people in Africa and South Asia, through its soap brand Lifebuoy and partnerships with Population Services International (PSI) and UNICEF, established through the Unilever Foundation.

Consistent evidence shows that handwashing with soap at critical times  before eating or preparing food and after using the toilet  can reduce diarrheal risk by 45 percent and acute respiratory infections such as pneumonia, by 23 percent. Studies also reveal that primary school absenteeism due to diarrhea and respiratory infections dropped between 20 percent and 50 percent as a result of better handwashing practices.

The partnership will be focusing on villages in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda, and aims to: decrease incidence in diarrheal diseases, promote gender equality, increase school attendance and enhance productivity and well-being for all community members. The partnership will also focus on influencing government policies on health education. 

“It is unacceptable that two million children die every year from infectious diseases when we have easy and cheap lifesaving solutions, such as handwashing with soap, readily available,” Polman said. “Innovative partnerships between governments, civil society and business have a critical role to play in promoting better hygiene practices and in tackling the world’s deadliest diseases.”

GHD

Unilever, through its Lifebuoy brand, co-founded Global Handwashing Day in 2008 with the Public Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPPHW) alongside UNICEF, P&G, USAID, the Work Bank Water and Sanitation Programme, US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the Academy for Educational Development.

Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said: “Diarrhea and pneumonia are the two leading causes of under-5 deaths, accounting for around 30 percent of children's deaths globally  more than two million lives lost each year. More than 80 percent of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Addressing these challenges through improved hygiene is a vital and effective step towards saving lives and achieving the global Millennium Development Goal to reduce the child mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015.”

In related news, Hilton Worldwide announced a partnership last year with The Global Soap Project, a nonprofit organization that recovers and recycles soap from hotels that would otherwise end up in landfills. 

Earlier this month, Unilever announced it will develop participatory campaigns with Carrotmob, an advocacy group dedicated to organizing consumer spending to influence businesses’ impacts on social and environmental issues.

@Bart_King is a freelance writer and communications consultant.


Bart King is the principal of New Growth Communications, a network of affiliated content producers and strategists serving clients in the emerging green economy. He is also an associate editor for Sustainable Brands. Follow him @bart_kingGoogle+

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