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Behavior Change
New Partnership Aims to Improve Hygiene, Nutrition in Indian Children

The collaboration between Unilever-Lifebuoy and The Power of Nutrition aims to reach mothers and expectant mothers in rural India via mobile app, to reduce infant mortality and boost overall health through handwashing.

Yesterday, Unilever’s hygiene soap brand Lifebuoy and UK-based nonprofit The Power of Nutrition announced an innovative partnership aimed at improving hygiene and reduce undernutrition among mothers in India, using mobile technology to promote handwashing with soap as part of a nutrition program. The partnership was launched at the Concordia Annual Summit alongside the UN General Assembly.

Handwashing with soap is one of the 11 proven interventions to address child undernutrition. Lack of handwashing can lead to infectious, diarrheal-related diseases, which weaken the body’s ability to absorb nutrition from food. One of the most cost-effective interventions to prevent diarrheal-related deaths, handwashing with soap is proven to reduce diarrhea incidence by close to half. 

“Lifebuoy embodies purposeful brands through its rigorous focus on … making impact on the ground. But breakthroughs at scale can only happen when we work together,” said Unilever CEO Alan Jope. “This partnership combines Unilever’s and Lifebuoy’s marketing and behavior change expertise, along with The Power of Nutrition’s innovative funding platform, to tackle poor hygiene and malnutrition in an unprecedented way.”

Through this partnership, Lifebuoy and The Power of Nutrition are co-funding behavior change aimed at improving hygiene and nutrition, using mobile technology to reach 2.7 million women in India by 2021.

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The initiative features a unique mobile app called Mobile Doctarni, a voice-based service that delivers critical health and hygiene information to mothers living in rural parts of India, where access to doctors, information and TV are limited. Created by Lifebuoy, the app provides time-sensitive information to mothers, depending on her pregnancy stage or age of her child, thus replacing the need for costly field visits by healthcare workers. The partnership supports the government of India’s new initiative to address undernutrition in the country.

“Investing in hygiene and nutrition has the power to unlock huge social and economic changes, especially in countries with a high burden of stunting,” said Martin Short, CEO at The Power of Nutrition. “Our partnership with Unilever and Lifebuoy unlocks committed public sector resources and enables us to multiply this funding, thereby maximizing the total investment in hygiene and nutrition.” 

Undernutrition and poor hygiene are holding millions of children back from realizing their full potential. Poor nutrition is the underlying cause of over half of the 5.4 million children under five who die annually — roughly 3.1 million children each year; and poor hygiene accounts for about one-fifth of these deaths – roughly 1.2 million children each year.

Through Mobile Doctarni, mothers or mothers-to-be in rural parts of India can receive free, personalized, weekly, voice-based hygiene information via mobile for one to two months, based on their pregnancy period or their child’s age. Evaluation of the Mobile Doctarni program showed strong results on handwashing behaviors at key occasions:

  • For general mothers: The program was able to significantly increase handwashing with soap/liquids by about one occasion per day

  • For expectant/new mothers: Frequency of handwashing vastly improved among participants exposed to the campaign — an average of 1.5 times more in handwashing frequency.

While the new partnership is focusing on India — which has the highest number of stunted children (when a child’s physical and mental development is impeded due to poor nutrition in the world, representing one-third of the global total of stunted children under the age of five — the partners say they will aim to create a model of this program, for replicating effectively in other areas.