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Unilever, Earth Institute to encourage “Handwashing” across African villages

To mark the fifth anniversary of Global Handwashing Day, Unilever and the Earth Institute have today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in New York to bring handwashing with soap, a lifesaving habit – to Millennium Villages across 10 sub-Saharan African countries.

The MOU which was signed by Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Unilever CEO Paul Polman, supports Unilever’s goal to deliver on one of its commitment under its Sustainable Living Plan by helping more than one billion people take action to improve their health and well-being. The initiative also aim to decrease incidence in diarrhoea diseases, promote gender equality, increase school attendance, enhance productivity and well-being for all community members.

The project involves working with nearly 500,000 people in rural villages across 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The African countries targeted are Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda.

“The partnership will also focus on governments. Governments should integrate handwashing with soap into national health and education policy frameworks. Governments and aid donors should ensure adequate finance for hygiene facilities and water availabilities. Business must act too, ensuring their products are even more affordable, and varied so that handwashing with soap is done everywhere and by all. Public-private partnerships have role to play and can help governments harness the power of business for the benefit of their population’s health,” a statement released on the partnership said.

Unilever CEO Paul Polman, said: “The big issues the world is facing require new approaches, new business models and new partnerships. Responsible businesses must take a more active leadership role. The MOU with the Earth Institute partnering Lifebuoy with the Millennium Villages Project is one such example where working together will enhance our expertise of addressing hygiene in deep rural Africa and enable us to develop more effective solutions to reduce child mortality.”

“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. 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.”

Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University accounted that “Diarrhoea 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.”

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

“We are looking forward to working with Unilever to ensure that straightforward solutions like handwashing reach the people that need them the most,” said Sachs who leads the Millennium Villages Project.

Millions of people around the world are thereby urged to pledge on this link to help Lifebuoy and its partners assist more children receive hygiene education through their dedicated handwashing behavior change programs.

Speaking on the UN’s post-2015 agenda, Polman said, “It will be important to ensure that hygiene takes its place alongside targets on water and sanitation. This partnership with Millennium Villages Project will provide further evidence to demonstrate to policymakers how hygiene public policy can be improved, and help bring to an end the scandal of children dying from preventable diseases.”

The Global Handwashing Day is celebrated on the 15th of October in over 100 countries to create awareness on the importance of handwashing with soap as a lifesaving habit. It was founded by Unilever through its Lifebuoy brand in partnership 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.

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