Unilever and Lifebuoy Transforming Handwashing Habits in India

India 2013

By Leon Kaye

March 06, 2013

Also published at Triple Pundit

The simple act of handwashing can help erase a tragedy still affecting much of India’s poor. While India’s government and NGOs have made impressive strides in decreasing child mortality the past four decades, the past 10 years has witnessed a stall in key metrics such as child malnutrition; and India’s poor children still suffer a stubbornly high mortality rate. The Wall Street Journal, among many publications tracking children’s health in India, has pointed out of the 1.7 million child deaths occurring in India annually–almost 5,000 daily–diarrhea alone killed 13 percent of children under the age of five.UNICEF estimates only 31 percent of children have access to basic sanitation. India’s government has flailed in its response to these dismal statistics, but for now has promised to raise health care spending up from a dismal 1.4 percent of GDP to 2.5 percent by 2017. Simple preventative measures, however, could make a huge difference.

Lifebuoy is behind another handwashing campaign in India

Handwashing is one step towards preventing preventable diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia. To that end, Unilever, as part of its Sustainable Living Plan, has ramped up its Lifebuoy brand’s handwashing campaign in the fight against early childhood mortality. A similar campaign is already underway in sub-Saharan Africa; and with 2 million children worldwide dying before the age of five from these preventable diseases, Unilever seeks a greater impact in India as well with its “Help a Child Reach 5” initiative.

Unilever recently launched the Gondappa Campaign, centered around the company’s adoption of a village in the state of Madhya Pradesh. As the above video explains, the village of Thesgora, to which 300 families call home, has one of the highest rates of early childhood deaths before the age of five from diarrhea in India. According to a Unilever press release, this handwashing campaign will target schoolchildren, new mothers, nurses and community groups. Volunteers will remind Thesgora’s residents to practice handwashing at key moments such as before meals and after using the restroom. Unilever’s involvement aims to reach the objective of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4, a global campaign to reduce the deaths of the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.

Unilever’s latest initiative follows other programs to improve sanitation and health throughout and beyond India. Last month Lifebuoy sponsored a handwashing campaign  via bread handed out during a festival in northern India. For several years the company has also sold cost-effective water filtration systems affordably priced for India’s poor.

As the campaign in Thesgora continues, Unilever will track its progress through social media channels such asFacebook and YouTube. The company claims it has reached 130 million people so far with its handwashing agenda; by 2015 Unilever seeks to push that number to one billion.

Leon Kaye explored children’s health issues in India February 18-27 as a Spring 2013 International Reporting Project Fellow. Based in Fresno, California, he is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared onSustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).