PSI: Saving Lives through handwashing and safe drinking water

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. These programmes are informed by PSI’s 40 years’ on-the-ground experience in the developing world, working 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 are working 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 are expected to reach 1 million people.

Water works: Improving access to safe drinking water

In Bhopal, India, the Unilever Foundation has launched Water Works in partnership with PSI and Facebook. Water Works is a not-for-profit programme which brings safe clean drinking water to communities in need around the world through a Timeline application developed jointly with Facebook, connecting people with the means to help directly with people and communities in need.

Water Workers, trained by PSI, deliver free Pureit home water purifiers to households in need of help. They use their local knowledge, together with a behavior-change methodology, to show families how to use the water purifiers, which will keep them safe from water-borne diseases. Visitors to the Water Works Facebook page can sign on to use its app and sponsor the in-country Water Workers, contributing as little as €0.10 a day. Every small action helps.

Water Workers come from the communities in which they work – they are mothers, sisters, friends and aunts who know the people around them and are best placed to talk to members of the community about important issues such as health and hygiene. By participating in the programme, these Water Workers will make a steady income and receive training on communication techniques and local health issues – thereby empowering the women who take part.