USAID, Unilever-Lifebuoy Launch Alliance to Prevent Newborn Infections and Save Lives with Improved Handwashing Practices

For Immediate Release

Monday, June 13, 2011
USAID Press Office
202-712-4320

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Unilever-Lifebuoy announced a new partnership that leverages their collective resources to improve handwashing practices among birth attendants and family members as a key evidence-based strategy to reduce newborn infections. The partnership was developed in collaboration with USAID's flagship Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP).

Up to two-thirds of the 3.6 million newborn infants who die within the first four weeks after birth can be prevented. About 85 percent of these deaths are due to infections, prematurity and/or complications during labor. Simple, low-cost health interventions could reduce the number of infant deaths by as much as 70 percent. One such intervention is handwashing with soap.

"USAID is introducing and scaling up the delivery of very simple, low-cost approaches to prevent death and treat severe illness to reach women and children in very poor communities who do not have access to quality health care," said Richard Greene, Director, Office of Health, Infectious Diseases and Nutrition, USAID. "And good hygiene is essential to good health."

Approximately one third of the 3.6 million neonatal deaths that occur each year can be attributed to infections that develop into life-threatening conditions. USAID-supported research is strengthening the evidence base on infection management in young infants, especially in community-based settings.

A recent community study in Nepal concluded that handwashing with soap can reduce newborn deaths by up to 44 percent. For countries where newborn mortality is high, adopting handwashing with soap as a standard practice before delivery and while handling newborns is important because it saves lives.

Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps one can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Studies show that washing hands with soap is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diseases: it can cut deaths from diarrhea by almost half and from acute respiratory infections by a quarter.

"At Lifebuoy, we understand the impact that handwashing with soap can make and have made a bold commitment to change the handwashing behavior of one billion people by 2015," said Myriam Sidibe, Social Mission Director, Lifebuoy. "Persuading people to change their behaviour for long term health benefits is difficult, and requires a sound understanding of people's habits, lifestyles and environment. We are proud to be working as a partner of this Global Development Alliance for newborn survival, which will implement effective behavior change interventions based on our collective understanding, preventing infections and saving lives."

Global Development Alliances (GDA) like this link U.S. foreign assistance with the resources, expertise, innovation, and creativity of private sector partners and NGOs. Such alliances are vital to the achievement of transformational development goals, and alliances that have the greatest impact are the ones connected to the core business mission of the private company. The key to success is motivating birth attendants, new mothers, health providers, and caretakers to adopt hand washing with soap as an ingrained habit to significantly reduce newborn deaths due to infection.

"We look forward to being an implementing partner in this Public-Private alliance," said Koki Agarwal, Director, Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP). "We are committed to saving the lives of newborns and this is one simple, low-cost intervention that can do just that."

Under the President's Global Health Initiative, USAID is targeting investments where we can most effectively achieve dramatic, meaningful results for the American people and the developing world. Expanding these programs will mean providing easier access at a single location for a broader set of medical and health interventions. It means focusing more clearly and getting the full package of basic health services out to those people who are most vulnerable because they lack access to any protective care at all.

Last updated: July 22, 2014

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