Every year, more than 2 million children do not live to celebrate their fifth birthday because of diarrhoea and pneumonia. Today, the Unilever Foundation and PSI, a global health organisation, are working together to avert these easily preventable deaths by teaching the importance of handwashing with soap and increasing access to safe drinking water. PSI has more than 40 years of on-the-ground experience, which greatly informs these programmes that work to improve the health of children and families.
Although many people around the world wash their hands with water, very few wash their hands with soap at critical moments – such as after using the toilet, after cleaning a child and before handling food. If handwashing with soap became a standard practice, health experts estimate that deaths from diarrhoea could be reduced by half and one in four deaths from acute respiratory infections would be averted.
Together, Unilever and PSI work with local governments to increase handwashing with soap in schools and communities across Kenya, Vietnam and Zimbabwe – three countries where handwashing with soap practices are low. In Kenya, for example, 28% of schoolchildren report washing their hands with water at key times during the day, yet only 1% report using soap.
This joint initiative helps children get into a habit of correctly and consistently washing their hands with soap at critical times of the day. Using Lifebuoy soap products and communication materials, teachers and community health workers engage school-aged children to change behaviours through handwashing programmes and activities, such as song writing, comic books and even handwashing pledges. We know that when children learn and understand healthy behaviours, they help pass on life-saving information to their families at home and future generations – setting off a powerful ripple effect. The programmes have reached over 1 million people.
Waterworks: Improving access to safe drinking water
Waterworks, launched as a partnership between the Unilever Foundation, PSI and Pureit brings safe clean drinking water to communities in need in the city of Bhopal, India. This not-for-profit programme provides free Pureit water purifiers (Unilever’s in-home water purification system) to households. Women from the local community are trained by PSI in behaviour-change methodology so that community members can learn how to use the Pureit purifiers, which will keep them safe from water-borne diseases. As mothers, sisters, aunts and friends from the community, these Waterworkers are able to have trusted conversations with their families and friends about the health issues that affect them most.
Additionally, the Waterworks program seeks to increase financial empowerment for women in the community by providing a steady monthly income for Waterworkers participating in the programme.