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HindustanTimes Wed,01 Oct 2014

Kajol gets hands-on about handwashing

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  New York, September 24, 2013
First Published: 08:03 IST(24/9/2013) | Last Updated: 11:04 IST(24/9/2013)

Kajol visited the UN General Assembly on Monday and came back very impressed. "For the first time in my  life, I was starstruck. I was among heads of state, world leaders, heads of international organisations and NGOs, who spoke about what they're doing to make the world a better place," she said.

She said it gave her a lot of hope . "I worry about the planet we're leaving our children. But this morning, I felt optimistic. They are all very, very powerful people, and if they're working at making it a better world, they will make change," she said.

Kajol is in New York this week to do pretty much the same. On Monday afternoon, she spoke at Social Good Summit, which is a high-powered gathering of world leaders, social innovators, advocates and philanthropists to find doable solutions to problems at the sidelight of the UN powwow. She shared the dais with former US vice-president Al Gore, Bill and Melinda Gates, co-chairperson of Global Health Corps CEO, Barbara Bush, girls' rights hero Malala Yousafazai, Linkin Park drummer Rob Bourbon and bassist Phoenix Ferrel, among others.

Kajol spoke on the need for sanitation and frequent handwashing to prevent infections such as diarrhoea and pneumonia that are among the top killers of children under 5 years. "Most of these deaths can be avoided by simple measures, such as washing your hands with soap and water," said Kajol.

What got her started was a short film about a man called Gundappa who climbed a village hill walking upside-down on his hands to a temple to thank God for letting his son live to be 5 years old. "This is Gundappa first child to reach the age if five," a villager tells a curious onlooker (Watch the film on YouTube helpachildreach5).

"My daughter, now 3, was in hospital when she was 10 months old, those four were the most traumatic days of my life. I don't want any parent to go through that, every child should reach the age of 5," she said.

In 2012, roughly 6.6 million children under five years died worldwide. About half of under-five deaths occur in five countries -- India, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, and Pakistan. India (22%) and Nigeria (13%) together account for more than one-third of all deaths, said the UN's 2013 Progress Report on Committing to Child Survival released 10 days ago.

"When I was growing up, hand washing was a ritual, but now it's a necessity. A child dies every 15 seconds from preventable causes, which has got to stop," she said.

The 'Help a Child Reach 5' campaign in India is part of Unilever's effort to bring down child deaths in 16 countries to help meet the Millennium Development Goal 4: reducing child mortality. Since the handwashing campaign started in the Gond Tribal belt in the Chindwara district of Madhya Pradesh in March this year, diarrhoea among children dropped from 42% to 12%, shows preliminary data.

"We're getting the message across to children through school and they in turn take it to their homes and community, starting a cycle of sanitation and good health," said children. "Children get excited about issues, even hand washing. After all, who doesn't want to play with water," she grinned.

Add soap to the mix and ensure your child stays healthy and happy. "People are willing to learn for their children. I turned into a health nut after my kids were born. I'm almost anal about soap and water now," said Kajol.

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