Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Unilever’s germ-protecting soap brand Lifebuoy and The Power of Nutrition, a global charitable foundation advancing the fight against malnutrition, have launched an innovative multisectoral partnership to protect young children from illnesses, malnutrition and premature death in Indonesia.
The partnership aims to reach over 1 million Indonesian children aged under five in multiple provinces, including West Java and South Kalimantan. Highlighting the combined benefits of immunisation, handwashing with soap and nutrition, the programme will be implemented in urban and rural areas with a high burden of stunting and incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases.
The new programme will build upon lessons learned from the successful Safal Shuruaat partnership between Gavi and Unilever in rural India, which raised awareness and drove behaviour change among parents towards hygiene and early childhood vaccination. The programme saw a five-fold increase in incidental handwashing with soap and a significant increase in routine immunisation against diseases such as rubella, measles and rotavirus. This latest initiative will adapt the approach to align with the needs and challenges of communities in West Java and South Kalimantan where access to vaccines and clean water is available, yet optimal handwashing, nutrition and immunisation behaviours are not fully adopted.
Inadequate hand hygiene, malnutrition and infectious diseases together cause millions of preventable child deaths every year and contribute to a vicious cycle of poor health, stunted growth, poverty and exclusion. Among childhood diseases, pneumonia and diarrhoea are the two leading killers of children worldwide. In 2021, they were responsible for more than a quarter of the deaths that occurred in children under one year of age in Indonesia. While progress is being made with the introduction of rotavirus and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted routine immunisation in Indonesia, which saw basic infant coverage drop from 96.5% to 80.1% leaving 1.7 million children unvaccinated between 2019 and 2021.
“Diarrhoea and pneumonia are two of the most devastating preventable illnesses which claim the lives of millions of children worldwide,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi. “Integrated interventions that begin at birth, including clean water and vaccines, can protect against these diseases. Gavi, Unilever Lifebuoy and The Power of Nutrition’s partnership is a great example of the public and private sectors working together to help prevent millions of unnecessary deaths and save the lives of the most vulnerable children,” he added.
“I am delighted that Unilever and Gavi will be launching a healthy nutrition programme alongside our long-standing handwashing and childhood vaccine programmes, to give children in Indonesia the best start in life,” said Hanneke Faber, President of Nutrition at Unilever. “Unilever has a long history of using our brands as a force for good. We’ve been working closely with partners to promote healthy lives and well-being, through behaviour change programmes focused on hygiene, sanitation and nutrition. Over the last decade, we have reached over a billion people with these programmes. Though we have made great progress, there is still more to do!”
“We’re thrilled to be joining forces with Gavi and Unilever for this new programme in Indonesia, adding the important focus of nutrition and complementing the work that we are already doing in the country,” said Simon Bishop, CEO of The Power of Nutrition. “The partnership paves the way for a longer-term collaboration that recognises the benefits of combining nutrition with vaccinations, targeting the most vulnerable ‘zero-dose’ children who also suffer from malnutrition. At The Power of Nutrition, we believe in the power of partnerships, and this is a great example of coming together to achieve greater results.”
Unilever’s initial investment in the programme was matched by the Government of the Netherlands through the Gavi Matching Fund, doubling the resources put towards the partnership, and in turn, driving a greater impact on the lives of children and their families. The programme has since attracted new donors, including The Power of Nutrition, whose contributions were also matched by the Government of the Netherlands, bringing the total investment to US$ 8 million.
The funds will be used to empower and educate parents and caregivers of young children to make simple, positive health choices around vaccination, HWWS (handwashing with soap), and infant and young child nutrition – using bespoke messaging tailored to mothers and fathers, community leaders and key influencers; as well as using mobile technology for cost-effective training, monitoring and targeted messaging based on the age and development stage of the child.