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Gavi and Unilever to tackle preventable diseases and save children’s lives


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Ground-breaking partnership will raise awareness of the power of immunisation and of handwashing with soap to accelerate child survival efforts.

Children washing hands with Lifebuoy soap

DAVOS – Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Unilever’s leading health soap brand, Lifebuoy are today launching an innovative partnership to protect children under five from childhood illnesses and premature death. By promoting handwashing with soap and immunisation together - two of the most cost effective child survival interventions - the partnership aims to improve and save many young lives in India.

Announced at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2017 in Davos, Switzerland, the partnership will be supported by the Government of Netherlands through Gavi’s Matching Fund mechanism and by the Government of India, where the initial project to implement a joint approach to promote healthier behaviours will take place.

Among childhood diseases, pneumonia and diarrhoea are two of the leading killers of children worldwide. Together they are responsible for nearly a quarter of the deaths that occurred in children under 5 years of age in 2015. India has the highest number of pneumonia and diarrhoea deaths among children in the world with nearly 300,000 children dying from these illnesses. Lack of handwashing with soap can contribute to such preventable diseases. While progress is being made with the introduction of rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines as well as hygiene programmes across the world, more needs to be done to accelerate the fight against these diseases.

“Diarrhoea and pneumonia are two of the most devastating preventable illnesses which claim the lives of millions of children worldwide”, said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi. “Integrated interventions that begin at birth, including clean water and vaccines, can protect against these diseases. Therefore I welcome the Gavi and Unilever Lifebuoy partnership, which is a great example of public and private sectors working together to help prevent millions of unnecessary deaths and save lives of the most vulnerable children”, he added.

The three-year partnership will leverage Unilever’s expertise in behaviour change, marketing capability, and financial support along with Gavi’s supply, health systems strengthening investments and Alliance networks to deliver behaviour change interventions and promote the benefits of vaccination, handwashing with soap and good hygiene to key target audiences in India. This will have a positive impact on multiple Sustainable Development Goals including good health and well-being (Goal 3), clean water and sanitation (Goal 6), and it will help revitalise global partnerships for sustainable development (Goal 17).

“Every year, infectious diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia deny 1.4 million children the chance to celebrate their fifth birthday. Yet as we know through our many successful Lifebuoy programmes, many of these deaths can be prevented through the simple act of handwashing with soap” said Paul Polman, Unilever’s CEO. “I am excited about Lifebuoy’s partnership with Gavi -- one of the world’s leading development innovators and multi-lateral health organisations. By taking a holistic approach, promoting both handwashing with soap and immunisations, our partnership will help save further lives and work towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Lifebuoy runs one of the world’s largest hygiene promotion programmes which aims to change the handwashing behaviours of a billion people by 2020. The partnership will be rooted in existing interventions that leverage Lifebuoy’s approach to behaviour change and contribute to further making handwashing with soap at key occasions an ingrained habit whilst accelerating vaccine uptake. Unilever and Gavi will measure results of the behaviour change programme with an aim to further scale up the integrated approach.

Unilever’s financial contribution will be matched by the Government of Netherlands, as part of the Gavi Matching Fund mechanism, which will double the resources put toward the partnership, in turn driving greater impact on the lives of children and their families.

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