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Unilever & USAID call for world-wide hygiene intervention for newborns


Average read time: 4 minutes

New York – To coincide with the 69th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, Unilever’s health soap brand Lifebuoy hosted a roundtable discussion that united the private and public sector with one clear goal: to reach all mothers worldwide with life-saving hygiene messages that help their babies survive the first month of life. 40% of under-5 deaths occur in the newborn period and handwashing with soap is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce preventable diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia, which are the main causes of child mortality.

Unilever logo building

The panel of experts included:

  • Paul Polman – Unilever CEO
  • Raj Shah – United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator
  • Kajol – Handwashing ambassador and advocate of Lifebuoy’s Help A Child Reach 5 campaign
  • Kirsten Gagnaire – Executive Director of Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA)

Central to the discussion was the need for education among new mothers and skilled birth attendants to reduce the risk of infections by improving hygiene habits. Doing this at scale will help drive progress towards the United Nations Millennium Development Goal to reduce child mortality (MDG4) but requires the collaboration of experts, including those in the technology sector, to create innovative solutions for rural communities.

Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman said the role of hygiene and handwashing must be more prominent in dialogues around newborn and maternal health. “There must be a target on universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) within the United Nations Post-2015 Development Agenda if we are to reduce preventable newborn and child deaths.

“This requires a measurable indicator of facilities for handwashing with soap in homes, schools and care centres.” He added, “We have a duty to help protect the lives of the most vulnerable children in our society. That’s why, in partnership with USAID, Unilever brand Lifebuoy is rolling out a behaviour change programme for new mothers and skilled birth attendants.”

The discussion reinforces the commitment between Unilever and USAID to scale up newborn hygiene programmes together. Four years ago, Unilever – through Lifebuoy – joined forces with USAID and its Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP) to create a dedicated newborn programme to mainstream handwashing with soap amongst mothers. The programme has been piloted in Indonesia, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka and will now be scaled up across Kenya. It is part of Lifebuoy’s behaviour change programme, which has since 2010 reached 183 million people across 16 countries.

Shah reinforced USAID’s ambition to end preventable child and maternal deaths in a generation - noting that improving hygiene practices amongst new mothers and birth attendants will play a critical role in achieving this vision. He emphasised that widespread collaboration is key to making a difference on the ground.

Indian actor Kajol has been a handwashing ambassador for the last year and is a passionate advocate of the newborn programme: “A simple hygiene message – handwashing with soap – can help save the lives of newborn babies. Let’s act now to get that message to those who need to hear it. Policymakers and governments need to take action to scale up handwashing programmes, so that every mother of and birth attendant can have access to soap.”

About the Help A Child Reach 5 campaign

  • Handwashing with soap saves lives. Lifebuoy’s Help A Child Reach 5 campaign aims to eradicate preventable deaths from diseases like diarrhoea one village at a time, by teaching lifesaving handwashing habits.
  • To drive awareness of the campaign, Lifebuoy created a moving film on what it means for a child to reach the age of 5:
  • In 2013, Lifebuoy launched its Help a Child Reach 5 handwashing campaign in Thesgora, a village in Madhya Pradesh with one of the highest rates of diarrhoea in India. Through its handwashing programmes, Lifebuoy dramatically improved children’s handwashing habits so that they now washed their hands two additional times per day.
  • Lifebuoy isn’t stopping at Thesgora. It wants to expand its life-saving mission, village by village, starting with Bitobe village in Indonesia earlier this year and will continue across villages in South and Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America.

For more information, visit

About Lifebuoy

As the world’s leading health soap, Lifebuoy aims to make a difference by creating accessible hygiene products (soap) and promoting healthy hygiene habits. With this in mind, Lifebuoy aims to change the hand washing behaviour of one billion people by 2020. Since 2010 Lifebuoy has changed the hand washing behaviours of 183 million people across 16 countries.

For more information, please visit

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