Though the number of children dying of preventable and treatable diseases worldwide has dropped significantly since 1990, there is "realistic hope for much more" progress, particularly if "[i]mproved hygiene and sanitation ... play a key role in the next stage," Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, write in the Huffington Post's "Global Motherhood" blog. Noting that "diarrhea and pneumonia are the two leading killers of children, accounting for almost 30 percent of under-five deaths globally," they state, "Vaccines can help, but improved hygiene and sanitation are also vital, and therefore key to meeting the Millennium Development Goal of cutting the child mortality rate by at least two-thirds by 2015."
Sachs and Polman write that handwashing with soap is "one of the greatest health bargains on the planet" and, in addition to lowering the risk of disease, children who wash their hands miss fewer days of school. "All of these reasons explain why we are proud to announce today that Unilever, its famed Lifebuoy soap brand, and the Millennium Villages Project will join forces to promote handwashing, and WASH more generally, throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, starting in the 10 Millennium Village clusters," they state. "When it comes to improving health, the best practices and procedures are well known. The operational challenge is to scale up these life-saving approaches that work," the authors write, concluding the partnership "offers the opportunity to gain new insights into behavior-change education in low-income communities, so that we can help these communities, the national governments, and development practitioners to accelerate global progress in hygiene and public health throughout the world" (10/15).