Unilever and Sightsavers team up to tackle trachoma in Ethiopia

June 2016
Girl washing hands in outside sink.

Photo: Geoff Oliver Bugbee/Orbis

Sightsavers is teaming up with Unilever’s health soap brand Lifebuoy to promote better health and hygiene practices as part of efforts to eliminate trachoma in Ethiopia.

Lifebuoy and Sightsavers aim to reach out to trachoma-endemic areas of Ethiopia by 2020 through Lifebuoy’s School of Five programme, with a focus on facial cleanliness.

School of Five is designed to help students change their handwashing behaviour and make it into a habit, and has reached out to millions of people worldwide through engaging school-based activities. To build on the success of this programme, Sightsavers and Lifebuoy have collaborated to emphasise the importance of washing hands and face with water and soap, which plays a crucial role in controlling and preventing trachoma. This painful disease affects about 2.2 million people worldwide and can lead to permanent blindness.

Facial cleanliness forms part of the World Health Organization’ SAFE strategy, which aims to prevent the spread of trachoma via surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness and environmental improvements. It is estimated that children who maintain clean faces are 60 per cent less likely to have trachoma infections. By 2020, the School of Five initiative aims to reach more than one million people in Africa in trachoma-endemic areas.

Unilever CEO Paul Polman said: “This partnership with Sightsavers is further testament of bringing to life our commitment to increase positive social impact and make sustainable living commonplace. A simple change in behaviour has the potential to restore sight and save the lives of millions of children. Through collaborative partnerships we have a real chance to make a difference in our communities both in scale and impact.”

Sightsavers CEO Dr Caroline Harper said: “Sightsavers is very excited to be partnering with Unilever in the School of Five school initiative in Ethiopia and across other African countries to eliminate trachoma. Trachoma causes great pain and leads to blindness. In a country that has the highest burden of trachoma globally, this innovative public private partnership aims to improve health and hygiene practices, which is key to eliminating this infectious eye disease.

“Many partners, along with the government of Ethiopia, are working together to eliminate trachoma in the country. Sightsavers is proud to be one of those spearheading this global push.”

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