Mobile phones can save lives: An innovative partnership with Unilever, Lifebuoy and The Power of Nutrition to tackle hygiene and malnutrition

New York, 24 Sep 2019 – Unilever-Lifebuoy (Unilever’s hygiene soap brand) and The Power of Nutrition today announced a new innovative partnership using mobile technology to promote handwashing with soap as part of a nutrition programme among mothers. The partnership, which aims to improve hygiene and reduce undernutrition, was launched at the Concordia Annual Summit alongside the United Nations General Assembly.

The partnership features a unique mobile programme 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 is limited. Created by Lifebuoy, this innovative mobile programme 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.

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

Martin, Alan Jope and Jeff Oppenheim at the Concordia Summit

Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, said:

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



Martin Short, CEO at The Power of Nutrition, stated:

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

In this partnership, Unilever-Lifebuoy and The Power of Nutrition are co-funding behaviour change for hygiene and nutrition using mobile technology to reach 2.7 million women in India by 2021. The partnership is focusing on India, which has the highest number of stunted children in the world, representing one-third of the global total of stunted children under the age of five.[iii] Stunting is when a child’s physical and mental development is held back due to poor nutrition.

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

Unilever, Lifebuoy and The Power of Nutrition will aim to create a model of this programme, which could be replicated effectively in other geographies.



More information on Mobile Doctarni:

  • Mobile Doctarni is a unique voice-based service that delivers critical health and hygiene information to mothers living in rural parts of India to improve hygiene behaviours such as handwashing with soap to prevent diseases.
  • Mothers give missed calls to the system, which calls back and profiles them according to their pregnancy period or their child’s age. Mothers then receive personalised weekly voice-based hygiene information via mobile for one to two months.
  • The programme targets pregnant or new mothers with children below 28 days of age, or general mothers with older children.
  • Evaluation of the Mobile Doctarni programme showed strong results on handwashing behaviours at key occasions:
    • For general mothers: The programme was able to significantly increase handwashing with soap/liquids by about one occasion per day
    • For pregnant/new mothers: Their frequency of handwashing vastly improved among participants exposed to the campaign – an average of 1.5 times more in handwashing frequency



For further information please contact:

Achilleas Georgiou
+44 (0) 7452 819 982

[i] Bhutta, Zulfiqar A., et al. “Evidence-based interventions for improvement of maternal and child nutrition: what can be done and at what cost?.” The lancet 382.9890 (2013): 452-477.
[ii] CHERG 2010. Sandy Cairncross, Caroline Hunt, Sophie Boisson, Kristof Bostoen, Val Curtis, Isaac CH Fung, and Wolf-Peter Schmidt  Water, sanitation and hygiene for the prevention of diarrhoea.Int. J. Epidemiol. 2010 39: i193-i205.
[iii] UNICEF India. 2019. Stunting. Retrieved from http://unicef.in/whatwedo/10/stunting
[iv] World Health Organization. 2018. Children: reducing mortality fact sheet. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/children-reducing-mortality
[v] UNICEF. 2018. Malnutrition rates remain alarming: stunting is declining too slowly while wasting still impacts the lives of far too many young children. Retrieved from http://data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/malnutrition/#
[vi] World Health Organization. 2017. Global Health Observatory data repository. Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/gho/data/view.main.CM1002015REG6-CH3?lang=en

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