Helping children thrive through soap and vaccines

In Uttar Pradesh, India, over 1,000 children die every day from preventable diseases. Gavi’s long-standing partnership with Unilever and Lifebuoy has helped to reach 2.5 million people with essential vaccines and soap, while also leveraging the brand’s marketing and behaviour change expertise.

  • 29 April 2021
  • 5 min read
  • by Gavi Staff
Credit: Unilever
Credit: Unilever


As the world grapples with fresh waves of COVID-19 infections, vaccines have emerged as a critical new tool in the battle against the worst public health crisis of this generation. With all eyes on vaccines, this year’s World Immunisation Week offers hope for humanity to overcome the devastating COVID-19 pandemic so that we can progress on a path to a world where we can be together again. In this context, the World Health Organisation and health experts around the world have reiterated the importance of vaccines, but also continuing our existing preventative measures including wearing a face mask, washing our hands with soap and observing social distancing.

Vaccines are essential in bringing us closer to a world where no one has to suffer or die from a preventable disease. In fact, immunisation has played a big role in lowering child mortality rates by over 50% in the last three decades. Yet millions of children around the world still miss out on basic childhood vaccines every year.

Partnerships such as these are even more crucial today in light of COVID-19, where getting vaccinated and maintaining good hygiene is key to bringing people closer together again. As we continue our journey with Gavi, we will take our learnings forward and expand the programme to Indonesia.

Four years ago, at the World Economic Forum (WEF), Unilever Lifebuoy and Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance) launched a ground-breaking partnership combining the power of handwashing with soap and routine immunisation to help accelerate child survival efforts. Joining forces with new age experiential marketing organisations like Dialogue Factory, a member of the WPP family, Mindshare, Ogilvy, Genesis, Kantar, external consultants and government support have further helped to shape the programme strategy.

The joint initiative – Safal Shuruaat (‘Successful Beginning’) – is being implemented in India, Uttar Pradesh (UP), the most populous state where over 1,000 children under the age of one die each day due to entirely preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia. The programme communication is based on the aspirational insight that ‘every parent wants their child to be successful and lead a better quality of life than them’. The strategy is to inspire young parents, to adopt these behaviours which will ensure proper growth and development of the infant to be school-ready, with the age appropriate physical, mental and emotional skills.

From its inception, the programme has been guided by exhaustive scientific literature reviews and expert interactions. Today, it has successfully reached more than 2.5 million people across 14 districts of Uttar Pradesh. Over 1.5 million edutainment style mobile audio messages on child survival was shared with parents. Messages were also adapted for COVID-19 prevention.

Many parts of Uttar Pradesh lack exposure to traditional media, meaning that it’s fairly disconnected from the wider world. To overcome this challenge, the programme focused on spreading critical health and hygiene information by using mobile technology to share reminders on immunisation, handwashing with soap, nutrition, childhood development as well as interspousal communication. Short films and gamification further mobilised communities to take action.

What was also unique about this programme is that the messaging focused on addressing the role of men in child-care activities. Few initiatives in India have focused on this, but Safal Shuruaat tries to make the shift from man being the provider to the protector. Under the umbrella of successful parenting, fathers learn about the importance of both parents contributing to childcare including infection prevention. The engagement so far has been promising and one of our proudest moments was when the programme was recognised by the Indian Government’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as one of the ‘good and replicable practices and innovation in the public healthcare system’.

The results from the initial roll-out phase and the subsequent impact evaluation have been phenomenal. We’ve been able to drive real impact by combining Lifebuoy’s expertise on consumer behaviour change and marketing capabilities with Gavi’s technical expertise and understanding of networks and government policies.

Key results of the impact evaluation:

Results on immunisation:

  • Knowledge around the timely routine immunisation schedule improved by 2.8 percentage points.
  • Awareness regarding diarrhoea and pneumonia being vaccine preventable diseases significantly increased, by 6.0 percentage points and 6.8 percentage points respectively. 

Results on handwashing with soap:

  • Parents in the treatment group are three times more likely to be knowledgeable about the importance of handwashing with soap.
  • The likelihood of handwashing with soap at critical occasions is 1.5 times higher for parents who were exposed to the intervention.

Perception of vaccination and handwashing with soap as necessary actions to be taken for good parenting:

  • The association of successful parenting with timely immunisation and handwashing with soap significantly improved, by 11.4 percentage points and 6.1 percentage points respectively.

Partnerships such as these are even more crucial today in light of COVID-19, where getting vaccinated and maintaining good hygiene is key to bringing people closer together again. As we continue our journey with Gavi, we will take our learnings forward and expand the programme to Indonesia. Unilever will contribute a further €3 million, which Gavi will aim to match through the Gavi Matching Fund, bringing the total sum to €6 million. Together we look forward to collectively building a healthier, more prosperous world – a future where people’s health is protected through vaccines and good hand hygiene. 

This is by a guest post Kartik Chandrasekhar, Global Brand Vice President, Lifebuoy, Unilever.