We Need to Talk. Hygiene Matters.

By Magnus Groth
President & CEO SCA

Nearly two million people die each year from preventable hygiene-related illnesses. Nine in 10 of them are children. That’s not acceptable.

Far too many people across the world does not have access to basic hygiene solutions.

When the simple act of washing your hands becomes an undue burden due to a lack of clean water or when cultural taboos or stereotypes hinder people from participating fully in society, everyone suffers. Illnesses and diseases spread, people are pushed farther apart rather than closer together, and societies are held back from operating at their fullest potential.

This is not just an issue that impacts the developing world. A new global study

put out last month by SCA and the UN body Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) found that more than a third of women in the United States say they still feel “very uncomfortable” in social situations when on their period, which was some of the highest percentages found in the world. In Flint, Michigan, where the water has been contaminated for more than two years, a recent CNN report said that some local residents have stopped bathing and washing their hands – opting to cleanse themselves with baby wipes instead of soap, which is more effective at eliminating bacteria.

These are issues that SCA has focused on for decades. We joined forces with the WSSCC two years ago to help raise awareness about the link between hygiene, health and well-being as well as breaking taboos around menstruation. This year, we are working together to share perspectives on global hygiene practices in support of SCA’s global Hygiene Matters initiative. The initiative is designed to spark a global conversation that will help raise hygiene standards by providing hygiene education, making recommendations to policymakers working to address systemic hygiene issues and inspiring other organizations to advocate on behalf of the global hygiene challenges all societies face.

As a central part of this initiative, SCA is proud to announce a new partnership with the United Nations Foundation to broaden our work in shattering the stigma of taboos around bodily functions, highlight the economic impact of hygiene matters and encourage innovation in the hygiene sector that can support sustainable progress. We want to break the silence to raise awareness and empower everyone to talk openly about hygiene without shame.

As one of the world’s largest hygiene companies, we are dedicated to addressing these challenges. More than 500 million people rely on our hygiene products to live healthier lives every day. We integrated the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals into our own business decisions to focus on solutions that will help create a healthier world and support well-being for millions.

Hygiene matters need to be talked about, but real action is also required to make a difference. We’ve already started to see success stories that provide an undeniable business case for more organizations to get involved.

Last year, together with our Tork brand of soaps and paper towels, we initiated China’s first kindergarten hand hygiene program. Partnering with researchers at Holland’s Erasmus University and local physicians, we educated children in 18 kindergartens across the city of Shenzen. Due to poor handwashing habits, thousands of children were developing Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease and with the help of our program, we saw a reduction in the disease among the children by nearly 60 percent. When we enable children to attend school, we improve their earning potential and quality of life.

By improving hygiene solutions and practices, we can reduce overall business and healthcare costs as well as abate disease. We are collecting and analyzing data to help offer opportunities to customize care and adapt products and services to manage specific hygiene needs across populations. For instance, we have helped revolutionize incontinence care in hundreds of nursing homes to improve quality of care for patients while also streamlining processes for caregivers and lowering costs for facility managers. And we are developing new away-from-home products and intelligent washroom solutions that ensure public restrooms are always stocked with hygiene products, increasing efficiencies for sanitation workers.

In some parts of the world girls are prevented from going to school, and women to work, while on their period. By educating people around menstruation or helping men and women manage their incontinence, we can also potentially increase productivity in the workplace. In Pakistan, some female factory workers miss up to three days of work a month due to their menstrual cycles. Programs that help educate them on hygiene and provide access to menstruation products have been shown to reduce work absenteeism by 46 percent. We cannot solve all the world’s problems, but we can make a difference by raising our voice to drive innovative new ideas and solutions, by investing in hygiene education and advocacy, by sharing knowledge and data and by transforming attitudes and practices about hygiene with a wide coalition. Public private partnerships like the ones we have with the United Nations Foundation and the WSSCC are a vital part of the solution.

Today, we call on people everywhere – SCA customers, consumers, citizens, local and national governments, the public sector, and private companies – to ask themselves what they can do to advance good hygiene and sanitation. Together we can improve the lives of millions around the world and promote health and well-being for all. If we do this, together, we can create meaningful change in the world.

(Originally Posted on Huffingtonpost.com)