hand washing programs
Washing hands is the most cost-effective way to prevent child deaths from diarrhea and pneumonia, which cause 2.1 billion child deaths per year. The campaign “Help a Child Reach 5” is reducing child deaths through hand washing programs to teach children the importance of washing their hands multiple times a day with soap.

Lifebuoy is a health soap by Unilever, that according to Samir Singh, the brand’s Vice President, is combining a social mission with their brand’s core values to make lifesaving changes happen quickly. Unilever’s goal is to change more than one billion people’s hygiene habits by 2020.

After Thesgora, a village in India with one of the highest rates of diarrhea, went through the program, children began washing their hands two more times per day than before. Rates of diarrhea fell drastically from 36 percent to just five percent. Even the mothers were positively affected, as 33% more mothers began washing their hands more often.

A clinical trial was tested on 2,000 families in Mumbai. By targeting for children five years of age and providing free soap, hand washing with soap increased up to 10 times after the program took place. The health benefits were also incredible. Rates of diarrhea decreased by 25 percent, there was a 15 percent decrease in acute respiratory infections and an astonishing 46 percent decrease in eye infections.

Unilever attributes their success to a few fundamental ideas. The first is that by combining scientific fact with behavior-change theories and effectively communicating with consumers, successful changes can be made. Another reason why their programs have been so effective is because of the way they approach teaching. Unilever ensures that the programs are culturally appropriate and focused on fun if geared towards kids. In addition to gearing programs towards kids, Unilever recognizes that reaching the child’s influencers such as teachers, mothers and siblings is equally as important for children to maintain good hygiene practices.

Unilever is well on their way to achieving their goal through their Lifebuoy programs and others currently in place that provide safe drinking water and teach oral hygiene. According to their Sustainable Living Report published earlier this year, they managed to reach 303 million people by the end of 2013,

It’s programs like these that are helping the 2.5 billion people around the world that lack the effective sanitation, good hygiene practices and safe drinking water gain the essential tools to combat preventable deadly diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia.

Kim Tierney

Sources: Unilever 1, Unilever 2, The Guardian
Photo: Coverall