This week, GBCHealth will bring together some of the most prominent private-sector leaders in the world to discuss strategies for tackling pressing global health challenges. This year’s GBCHealth conference will focus on how business can better align its work with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The fourth MDG is to reduce mortality for children under 5 years old. The biggest threats to young children are pneumonia and diarrheal diseases, which are the cause of nearly 2 million deaths a year in children under 5 years old. The good news is that there is a simple way to prevent much of the spread of these two diseases: handwashing. And the private sector has been on the forefront of promoting handwashing in developing countries for more than a decade.
In 2000, I co-founded the Global Public–Private Partnership for Handwashing along with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the World Bank/ Water and Sanitation Program. Today, FHI 360 operates the secretariat for the partnership, and our membership has expanded to include Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, the University of Buffalo, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the United Nations Children’s Fund. Each member of our partnership contributes financial resources, skills or time.
Five years ago, the partnership launched the first Global Handwashing Day on October 15 to increase awareness and attract attention to the importance of handwashing. In 2012, Global Handwashing Day reached an estimated 1 billion people around the world. Groups held contests to see if they could beat the world record for the most people washing their hands at the same time. Schools around the world taught children proper handwashing techniques, and local nongovernmental organizations reached out to rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa to provide information about the importance of washing one’s hands at critical times.
All of this would not have been possible without support from the private sector. As we get closer and closer to the 2015 target date for the MDGs, I hope that more businesses and organizations will commit themselves to creating a healthier world.