The Health Environment Management Agency under the Ministry of Health and Unilever Vietnam's Vim brand have agreed to join hands to improve sanitation conditions for 10 million Vietnamese people, especially in rural areas.

At a total cost of 60 billion VND (2.86 million USD), the initiative aims to improve sanitation awareness and give millions access to clean toilets, according to a five-year strategic cooperation framework (2014-2018) signed on November 23.

Nguyen Huy Nga, head of the agency, said the programme has three points of focus: coordinating with the Ho Chi Minh City Pasteur Institute for disease prevention activities; cooperating with Unilever to improve sanitation in rural areas; and working with the Ministry of Education and Training for improved sanitation in schools.

Specific action plans include building 800 standard toilets in 80 schools at a cost of 16 billion VND (762,000 USD), which would help approximately 800,000 elementary school pupils have germ-free and safe toilets to use.

Besides, 10 billion VND (476,190 USD) will be spent on special talks on individual and environment hygiene given at 1,000 elementary schools nationwide, helping raise awareness among pupils and their parents about necessity of maintaining proper hygiene at school and home.

Major agencies that will participate in the programme include UNICEF, American Standard Co, several other NGOs and the Department of Preventive Health.

The programme, which falls under Unilever's global Sustainable Living Plan, will also be part of efforts to meet the national goals of clean water supply and improved sanitation.

According to UNICEF, in Vietnam, over 45 percent of families in the countryside either defecate in the open or use unhygienic toilets. Poor sanitation is responsible for frequent incidences of diarrhoea and pneumonia which causes the death of many children under five.

Poor sanitation is also a major cause of stunted growth among children in Vietnam, the organisation says.-VNA