Clearly times have changed since the old days when major multilateral summits would be attended largely by stuffy bureaucrats and boring specialists.

Nowhere is this more obvious than on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, where celebrity attendees now include the likes of Bollywood star Kajol, who is in town to campaign for further reductions in child mortality rates in developing countries.

And the focus of her campaign is remarkable for the simple nature of its message: wash your hands.

Improvements in hygiene standards achieved by more effective hand washing is seen by numerous experts as a “critical policy to reduce child mortality,” and on this occasion Ms. Kajol teamed up with some of the big players in the hand-hygiene industry to spread this message.

Partnering with Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Karl Hofmann, President and CEO Population Services International, Paul Polman, CEO Unilever and Pavanjit Singh Bedi, Lifebuoy Global Brand Director, Ms. Kajol’s campaign underscored the role that the private sector could play in accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals targeting reduce child mortality reduction.

Speaking at a press conference in NYC she said, “Here at the UN Summit, policymakers and governments have an opportunity to look at what needs to happen if we are to hit the child mortality reduction target by 2015.”

Emphasising the relatively less expensive nature of promoting hand washing as a means to eliminate some communicable diseases, she urged leaders attending the UNGA to ensure that this basic practice using soap “gets the recognition it needs as the most cost-effective policy we have at our disposal to achieve child mortality reduction under five by two-thirds by 2015.”

According to those behind the campaign more effective hand washing with soap can help reduce the incidence of diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea by 45 per cent and 23 per cent respectively, “a modest yet lifesaving act,” which could help up to 2.1 million children reach the age of five.

RELATED NEWS

Wash hands, stay healthy September 29, 2013

More In: World | International