New hygiene indicator needed in UN’s Sustainable Development plan, says Unilever

New hygiene indicator needed in UN’s Sustainable Development plan, says Unilever

In a bid to reduce the risk of child mortality, Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman, speaking on behalf of the company’s Lifebuoy soap brand, has called for a hygiene indicator as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Focussing on the crucial role hygiene plays in helping to fight child mortality, especially amongst newborns, Polman spoke at a panel discussion which coincided with the launch of the SDGs at the 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York. The company is calling for the inclusion of an indicator which measures the percentage of the population using a handwash facility, putting soap in homes, schools and health centres. 

With hygiene being so important to helping beat child mortality, especially washing hands, the health care intervention is being rolled out to those present in the first 28 days of the child’s life, which is new mothers and health care workers. Indeed, 40 per cent of child deaths under five occur in this period. 

Polman was joined by WaterAid’s CEO Barbara Frost, Lead of Merck for Mothers Dr. Naveen Rao and Help A Child Reach 5 ambassadors, Indian actor Kajol and Myanmar singer Chit Thu Wai. 

Taking place over the next 15 years, the SDGs will educate countries on how to set targets and agree funding for sustainable development. As hygiene is essential to tackling undernutrition, advancing access to education and, as stated, reducing child and newborn mortality, it has been included in Goal 6; to ensure availability and sustainable management of water sanitation for all. However, as yet there is no way to measure progress. 

Polman, Unilever CEO and member of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel said, “It is our duty to help protect the lives of the most vulnerable in society, our children. The simple act of handwashing with soap is essential to helping children to survive and thrive. But, it’s an area which has too often been overlooked. No business, government or UN agency can reduce child mortality alone, but by working together we can combine our expertise and resources to create real change. A hygiene indicator will have a huge impact on our ability to achieve health and development goals.” 

Meanwhile, Barbara Frost, CEO of WaterAid, said “Hand washing with soap is among the most cost-effective ways of preventing common infections in both mothers and newborns. By working together, businesses, governments and NGOs can achieve real change and make a difference on the ground to help save more lives.”