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The Global Handwashing Partnership

Lifebuoy and Amref improve newborn health through handwashing with soap

July 20, 2018

Ed. note: This post concludes our series on how our partners are contributing towards SDG 6. Read on to learn how Unilever and Amref Health Africa are working to improve handwashing practices in Kenya. 

By Lifebouy and Amref

More than 34,000 newborn babies in Kenya die each year. This startling statistic points to the vulnerability of the first 28 days of a child’s life in determining their survival. The good news is that handwashing with soap is a simple and cost-effective act that could help protect newborns and their mothers against life-threatening infections. Research has shown that when caregivers practice good handwashing in this critical period, newborn survival rates can increase by up to 44%.

In response, Lifebuoy, together with Amref Health Africa, launched a program aimed at improving the handwashing behavior of pregnant and new mothers in Migori County. Migori is one of the six counties in Kenya responsible for about half of Kenya’s maternal mortality burden. As part of a full-fledged campaign to raise awareness on the importance of handwashing with soap, Lifebuoy premiered a compelling film “Sherry”, which follows the journey of a pregnant mother in Migori County.

The pilot program was implemented in Kuria West, Migori County to educate mothers on the importance of handwashing with soap and raise awareness of the risks in handling their newborn with contaminated hands in order to motivate them to adopt behaviors. Community health workers were trained and equipped with skills in counselling, awareness creation and habit formation at three levels:

  • Households: Community health workers conducted up to four household visits to 160 new mothers over a period of 6 months. These visits took place from a mother’s last trimester up to the first month after her child was born. The visits were designed to drive behavior change through awareness, commitment, reinforcement, and reward, through interactive program materials such as Glow Germ demos, stories and provision of portable handwashing stations to support the behavior. Amref Health Africa and the County Ministry of Health included other key messages on maternal, newborn, and child health, and nutrition.
  • Community: 72 mother to mother support groups were formed to offer social support, and to enable engaging discussions and problem solving to reinforce and make handwashing with soap practice easier. These groups involved around 800 mothers of children up to 1 year of age.
  • Health Centers: The project worked closely with health facility staff and health workers to enable additional outreach to pregnant and new moms, and refer them to clinics for ANC services and safe delivery.

The program’s effectiveness was assessed on awareness of the program, attitude towards handwashing and knowledge on handwashing occasions relevant to new mothers. The results showed marked improvements with new mothers who underwent the program more likely to wash their hands with soap during three junctures compared to the control group – after changing nappies (26% vs 2%), before breastfeeding (42% vs 3%), and after visiting the toilet (39% vs 10%). In addition, 90% of the new mothers who were exposed to the program talked about it to their friends, family members, and neighbors, highlighting a positive ripple effect. The learnings from this partnership are being taken forward in several contexts globally.

Dr. Myriam Sidibe, Unilever Africa Social Mission Director highlighted “Reaching new mothers at this stage is crucial as their child is most susceptible to infections during the neonatal period and mothers are also most receptive to information and actioning steps for the health of their baby.” Lifebuoy aims to change the handwashing behavior of one billion people worldwide by 2020 under Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan and Africa is a key focus for driving impactful maternal, newborn and child health intervention.

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