Global Handwashing Day: Children as Agents of Change

Every 15 seconds, a child dies from diarrhea or pneumonia. That's two million children every year not reaching age five, an unacceptable figure. However, this shocking number could be dramatically reduced if mothers and children handwash with soap at key occasions. Handwashing with soap is the most cost effective way to prevent the global top two causes of all child deaths: diarrhea and pneumonia, which take millions of lives across Africa, Asia and Latin America every year. A vast change in handwashing behavior is therefore critical to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing deaths among children under the age of five by two-thirds by 2015.

Global Handwashing Day, celebrated on October 15th, is an international, UN-recognized day dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of handwashing with soap. Each year, over 200 million people are involved in handwashing celebrations in over 100 countries around the world.

Global Handwashing Day was co-founded by Unilever, through its health soap Lifebuoy, in 2008. Just as we know that prevention is better than cure, we also know that business has an important role to play in improving handwashing behavior and saving lives. For this reason, Unilever is committed to the biggest handwashing with soap campaign the world has ever seen. Lifebuoy's Help A Child Reach 5 campaign sets out to end preventable deaths of children under five by changing handwashing behaviors, one village at a time, and driving awareness of preventable child deaths through our film on what it means for a child to reach the age of five. Earlier this year, Lifebuoy's campaign was launched in Thesgora, a village in India with one of the highest rates of diarrhea. Lifebuoy's programs in Thesgora teach school children, new mothers and the wider community the importance of handwashing with soap at key occasions. And we will not stop at Thesgora. Today, we are extending this initiative to communities and villages across India and beyond to 17 countries in South and Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America.

An important part of this campaign is our schools program. Since 2010, our handwashing awareness initiatives have reached 130 million people across the world, primarily targeting schoolchildren. Research shows that children - the most energetic and enthusiastic section of society open to new ideas - are also powerful agents for changing behaviors. Through educating children on handwashing with soap in their communities, we are building a legacy. Children are future parents who can apply the behavior they have learnt in their own lives and pass on their habits to their own children. Children develop much of their behavior during their initial school years, learning from other children and being influenced by the behavior of their peers. With this in mind we teamed up with a children's entertainment expert to develop the 'School of 5' program. Lifebuoy's 'School of 5' uses a unique combination of comics, puzzles, stories and games to guide children, and their parents, to adopt the behavior. This process delivers results: a Unilever study carried out in a Millennium Village Project site in the Bonsaaso cluster in Ghana showed the parents of the 'School of 5' children used 18% more soap than the control group.

Last month, Lifebuoy went to the United Nations General Assembly in New York to meet with world leaders and call for hygiene to be recognized as a key intervention to reducing child mortality, both in the last 900 days before the Millennium Development Goal deadline and in the post-2015 development agenda. Through educating children to adopt healthy hygiene habits from a young age, we can ensure that not only these children, but their future children and grandchildren, sustain simple lifesaving habits. After all, children are the future and all children deserve a future beyond the age of five.

You can help raise awareness of the benefits of handwashing with soap this Global Handwashing Day. For every share of, Lifebuoy will donate one rupee to handwashing programs run by Population Services International (PSI).