|© UNICEF Viet Nam/2011|
|Actor Xuan Bac teaches hand-washing with soap to children as part of a series of TV spot to encourage good hygiene and sanitation.|
By Tran Phuong Anh
HA NOI, Viet Nam, 26 May 2011 – For many Vietnamese children, Xuan Bac, an actor and comedian, is a familiar name associated with friendliness and slapstick comedy. Recently appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, the well-known celebrity is committed to making the position part of his family and professional life.
Role model for children
Born and brought up in a rural area, the 35-year-old has a good understanding of the challenges in changing unhygienic practices. “I see myself as an efficient channel to communicate with wide audiences, particularly with children, and raise awareness of these issues in order to encourage safe behaviours and save young lives. But first and foremost, behaviour change will start within my own family!” he says with a cheeky smile.
Known as ‘Mr. Clean Water’ in Vietnamese TV spots, Xuan Bac delivers easy-to-understand messages about clean water and sanitation. All the TV spots show the Ambassador joining hands with children and celebrating their good work in an upbeat, suburban setting. With his down-to-earth image, thousands of child viewers relate to him.
Despite tremendous progress, 20,000 people die every year in Viet Nam from diarrhoea-related diseases caused by poor water and sanitation – most of them children.
According to the latest 2009 Census undertaken by the General Statistics Office, close to one in five Vietnamese households lacks access to an improved water supply, and three out of five households lack access to hygienic sanitation in rural areas of the country. This means some 3.3 million children in rural areas do not have access to improved water and more than 11 million children lack access to improved sanitation.
Partnerships to overcome challenges
Poor sanitation is one of Viet Nam’s biggest development challenges. While the Government of Viet Nam has made significant progress in providing clean water and safe sanitation, much work remains to be done, particularly to reach people in remote areas.
Viet Nam is currently expected to miss its water and sanitation 2015 Millennium Development Goals targets. To combat this, UNICEF, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) and the Singaporean non-governmental organization Lien Aid have partnered to raise public awareness, and encourage interested organizations to create joint strategies, activities and communication materials to promote safe water, sanitation and hygiene in Viet Nam.
Already four more organizations – Path, Plan International, World Vision, and Helevtas – are participating in the joint WASH communication campaign for 2011.
As part of his new role, Xuan Bac will appear in a wide range of communication activities, including media and community events. Vice Minister of MARD Dao Xuan Hoc says the appointment of Xuan Bac as WASH ambassador will be crucial to the Government’s efforts to achieve its water and sanitation goals.
Raining public awareness
Raising public awareness is a priority if Viet Nam is to reach the Government’s targets. A recent Ministry of Health-UNICEF national survey found only 18 per cent of people in the country know that the use of hygienic latrines contributes to the prevention of diarrhoea and parasitic diseases. And although an estimated 75 per cent of households in rural Viet Nam have latrines, only 18 per cent of them meet the Ministry of Health’s hygienic standards.
“We are very happy that artist Xuan Bac joined in our efforts as Goodwill Ambassador,” says UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam Lotta Sylwander. “We believe his talent and influence will be pervasive and have a positive impact on communities, particularly on rural people and children.”