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Editor’s Note: PSI and Unilever announced a new initiative with local governments in Kenya, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe to improve hand-washing behaviors in schools. A version of this story originally appeared here.

A mother washing her child’s hands in Benin. Credit: Ollivier Girard

A mother washing her child’s hands in Benin. Credit: Ollivier Girard

Although many people around the world wash their hands with water, very few wash their hands with soap at critical moments — such as after using the toilet, while cleaning a child, and before handling food. If hand-washing with soap became a standard practice, health experts estimate that deaths from diarrhea could be reduced by one half and that one in four deaths from acute respiratory infections would be averted.

This year, a new initiative launched between Lifebuoy (Unilever’s leading soap brand), PSI (one of the Unilever Foundation's global partners), and local governments is focusing on establishing behavior change programs in schools and communities across Kenya, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe — three countries where hand-washing with soap practices are low. In Kenya, for example, 28 percent of school children report washing their hands with water at key times during the day, yet only 1 percent report using soap.

The new Unilever-PSI initiative will help children get into a habit of correctly and consistently washing their hands with soap at critical times of the day. Using Lifebuoy soap products and communication materials, teachers and community health workers will work to change behaviors among school-aged kids through hand-washing programs and activities, such as song writing, comic books, and even hand-washing pledges. When children learn and understand healthy behaviors, they help pass life-saving information to their families at home and to future generations — setting off a powerful ripple effect.

Together PSI and Unilever aim to reach more than 250,000 school-aged children and their families in Kenya, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe over the next year. Through these three pilot programs, Lifebuoy, the Unilever Foundation, and PSI hope to prove the efficacy of this approach, and replicate the program at scale across a number of countries.

PSI joined Unilever and CSRWire for a Twitter chat to discuss the importance of hand-washing. Check out the highlights from the conversation, including questions and discussion from the audience. Continue the conversation with Unilever, PSI, and its partners at #IWashMyHands and become part of a worldwide dialogue to push hand-washing up the global health agenda. 

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