This morning on BBC World Service, Val Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London says the single most cost effective way to save lives in developing countries is washing hands with soap and she’s tapped a credible source for the campaign: marketers.
The problem, Curtis explains, is that in many developing countries, certain hygienic practices like hand-washing are not supported by the culture. (The London School estimates that 1 million children die of diarrhea each year, a situation that can be prevented by washing hands with soap.) To change perceptions, the school partnered with personal-care products companies, who know how to sell behavioral change as well as suds.
Curtis’ comments about marketing are interesting. She like many academics think of the discipline as one of the black arts, a process created by big business to coerce people into buying things they don’t need. In addition to saving lives, her project may go a long way toward changing that impression.