On behalf of Unilever’s health soap Lifebuoy, CEO Paul Polman today called for a hygiene indicator to be included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the global goals that will set the development agenda until 2030.
Polman spoke at a panel discussion, which coincides with the launch of the SDGs at the 70th United Nations General Assembly in New York. He focused on the crucial role of hygiene in helping to reduce child mortality, especially amongst newborns. Joining Polman were 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.
Over the next 15 years, the SDGs will inform how countries set targets and agree funding for sustainable development. Hygiene is fundamental to reducing newborn and child mortality, fighting undernutrition, and advancing access to education. It has been included in Goal 6 – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all - but there is currently no indicator to measure progress.
Hygiene, particularly hand washing with soap, is one of the most cost-effective ways to save child lives. At present, 40 per cent of deaths amongst children under the age of five occur in the first 28 days of life - the newborn period when children are most vulnerable. To reduce child mortality, hygiene interventions must therefore target new mothers and health care workers. Unilever is calling for the inclusion of an indicator which measures the percentage of the population using a handwashing facility with soap in homes, schools and health centres.
Paul 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.”
The panel followed Kajol’s on-stage moment at Global Citizen Festival introducing Paul Polman and Justine Greening, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development. The festival held in Central Park on Saturday September 26 called for public and government support to deliver the SDGs.
Kajol joined a line-up of musicians and celebrities including Stephen Colbert, Coldplay, Beyoncé, Hugh Jackman, Salma Hayek, Kerry Washington and Olivia Wilde, alongside dignitaries including Heads of State from Norway, Sweden and Rwanda and development leaders, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and World Bank head Jim Yong Kim.
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.”