Myriam Sidibe: The Hand-washing Expert

More than 6.6 million children die before their fifth birthday every year from preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia.

Studies indicate that promoting handwashing with soap with may be the most cost-effective way to prevent child mortality, saving 600,000 lives a year.

Myriam Sidibe is a citizen of the world. At 40, she has already lived in over 20 countries and visited more than 50 in all continents as family and duty called.

Myriam Sidibe is one of the only people in the world with a doctorate in public health focused on handwashing with soap. As the Global Social Mission Director for Lifebuoy soap, she has spent more than 14 years working with thousands of children understanding the most effective ways to get them to wash their hands with soap at key occasions like before eating or after using the bathroom.

Do you know that this is the lady who co-founded the Global Handwashing Day marked every October 15? As a matter of fact, Sidibe is among the very few people on the planet with a Doctorate in Public Health with special emphasis on handwashing from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. During her time at the London college, the only other person with similar qualifications was her supervisor.

Sidibe, a Malian, was born in France where her parents were studying. She is the first born among two other girls and a boy. Though she grew up in what could be termed a privileged household, the vagaries of poverty in her home country were not far from her.

“Handwashing isn’t meant to be done and driven by a small group of people. It should be a habit – something everyone does, several times a day, without even thinking about it.”

Her foresight in establishing Lifebuoy soaps co-branded school and neo-natal handwashing have proven so effective they have received over €20 million in support from external funders including CIFF (Children’s Investment Fund Foundation), DFID (Department for International Development), the Dutch Water Fund and USAID. They have also been replicated across Unilever as best practice examples for other brands looking to positively impact the world while driving market share.

As one of the world’s leading academics in the field of public health and behaviour change, Myriam represents Unilever with organisations such as Millennium Villages, the World Bank, PSI, WSUP, MCHIP and USAID to promote the importance of handwashing with soap, and create programmes that can help form healthy handwashing habits for life.

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