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Unilever’s Lifebuoy Soap Aims To Expand Handwashing Program

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
New Activism

The simple act of a child washing their hands with soap just might save their lives. Diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Every year, diarrhea kills around 760,000 children under five, and diarrhea is the leading cause of malnutrition in children under five.

Unilever’s health soap brand, Lifebuoy, established in 1894, wants to change the hygiene practices of one billion people by 2015 in Asia, Africa and Latin America by promoting handwashing with soap. On Global Handwashing Day, October 15, Lifebuoy announced plans to expand its Help a Child Reach 5 campaign to villages and communities in 17 countries. Every year, over 200 million people are involved in celebrating Global Handwashing Day, which Lifebuoy co-founded in 2009 with the Public Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW).

Lifebuoy launched the Help a Child Reach 5 campaign in 2013. The goal of the campaign is to end preventable deaths of children younger than five years old through teaching about the importance of handwashing. Lifebuoy’s handwashing programs, including Help a Child Reach 5, are run with partners such as PSI, Millennium Villages Partnership and UNICEF.

All the handwashing programs support Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan target to help over one billion people take action to improve their health and well-being by 2020. The handwashing programs have reached 130 million people around the world. In 2012, the programs reached 71 million, the year it expanded to 16 countries. In Africa alone, the handwashing programs reached over 11 million more people in 2012, compared to 400,000 in 2010-2011.

Lifebuoy's efforts are having an impact, as the results of one of its programs, the School of Five, show. The School of Five teaches children to wash their hands on five occasions during the day. In the Bonsaaso Millennium Village cluster in Ghana, in sub-Saharan Africa, there was a  22 percent increase in handwashing among children in the School of Five program compared to children not in the program. The average time of handwashing with soap was much longer and the frequency increased. As a result, the children spent 40 percent more time washing their hands every day.

Lifebuoy implemented a School of Five program in Zimbabwe and Kenya, where it also saw dramatic results. In Harare, Zimbabwe there was an increase in handwashing from eight percent before the program’s implementation in schools to 74 percent after the program. In the Likoni district in Kenya, there was a decrease among public school students of handwashing only with water from 62 percent before the program to 26 percent after.

All the handwashing that Lifebuoy’s programs promote will help stop the spread of diseases. PPPHW calls handwashing with soap the “vaccine that prevents infections.” As the nonprofit organization explains on its website, human feces are the main source of diarrheal pathogens. Just one gram of human feces can contain 10 million viruses and one million bacteria. Those pathogens are passed from the person infected to another person, and one way to prevent the transmission of disease is through handwashing with soap.

Photo: Flickr user, Fairfax County

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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