How Unilever’s army of Soapmakers became Hopemakers in our fight against COVID-19
As lockdown gradually lifts, it is important for us to stay vigilant and adopt good hand hygiene habits to protect ourselves and others from further spread of virus.
September 28, 2020 / 12:36 PM IST
The COVID-19 pandemic intruded into our lives over six months ago now, spreading with alarming speed across the world, infecting millions and bringing economies to a near-standstill as countries imposed tight restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.
As lockdown gradually lifts, it is important for us to stay vigilant and adopt good hand hygiene habits to protect ourselves and others from further spread of virus. Washing your hands with soap and water regularly, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, helps reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Why handwashing with soap is critical
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reiterated that hand hygiene is one of the important measures to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 causing virus. This is because COVID-19 causing virus is primarily spread through respiratory droplets and contact. This means, if you touch an infected person and/or contaminated objects or surfaces, your hands can aid in spreading the virus to yourself as well as to people you come into close contact with.
As such, it is particularly alarming to note that 65 out of 100 Indians don’t use soap to wash hands before a meal, according to the National Sample Survey’s 76th round report 2019. The report revealed that only 35.8 percent of households in the country practise handwashing with soap or detergent before a meal, while 60 percent of households wash hands only with water. Equally worrying is that about 26 percent of people in India do not wash their hands with soap after using the toilet.
Handwashing with soap was crucial in helping reduce the spread of the Spanish flu in 1918, the 2003 SARS outbreak and the H1N1 flu in 2009. As the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues, soap remains one of humanity’s best hope.
How soap can kill viruses
Soap has always been seen as a humble cleaning agent, but it is also particularly effective in disrupting bacteria and viruses that cause infections.
“SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic, belongs to the family of enveloped viruses. Enveloped viruses have a jacket made up of lipids and proteins that allows them to exist and helps them to enter human cells when your hands touch your face,” says Samir Singh, executive vice-president, Global Skin Cleansing at Unilever.
“Unfortunately, human skin is an ideal surface for germs, including enveloped viruses, to stick to. The proteins and fatty acids on the skin’s surface bind to the germs like glue. Water alone cannot effectively break this interaction. Soapy water, however, is very different.
Washing your hands using soap and water has a dual effect. Soap cleverly targets and interferes with the enveloped virus’ outer membrane so it cannot bind to the skin and it also washes the virus away from your body and down the sink”, added Singh.
From soap makers to hope makers
The outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year led to a spike in demand for hand hygiene products such as soap and hand sanitisers. Soap manufacturers around the world scrambled to ramp up production of this lifesaving product, including Unilever’s team of 15,600 soap makers who worked tirelessly to ensure the availability of soap to all.
Their hard work and dedication have enabled Lifebuoy, the world’s number one selling germ protection soap, to donate more than 20 million pieces of soap, hand sanitisers, and hygiene wipes worldwide help to curb the spread of COVID-19 causing virus. This beautiful tribute video thanks soap makers all over the world for their passion in making the hygiene products that help keep us safe during this pandemic.
For more than a century, Lifebuoy has been on a mission to promote the importance of handwashing with soap. It runs one of the world’s largest handwashing programmes, having changed the hygiene behaviour of more than 1 billion people across 30 countries since 2010. The brand is now available in over 50 countries and is dedicated to providing access to affordable and effective hand hygiene products.
Hindustan Unilever (HUL), which produces Lifebuoy products, has also pledged Rs 100 crores to help the nation overcome this pandemic. This includes creating mass awareness about protective measures through mass communication to drive home the message of social distancing and hand hygiene which is critical for us as a nation to fight this virus.
In the absence of a viable cure or vaccine, handwashing with soap remains the first line of defence to help fight against COVID-19. For that, we are grateful to all the soap makers who give us hope through the humble bar of soap.
To learn more about maintaining good hand hygiene, visit Lifebuoy’s Twitter page.
 Calculation based on Nielsen unit sales information for the total markets (approximately 40 countries), latest 12 months available. Details available on request.