Clean the (Developed) World

Rachel Mahoney

Kleinfeld categorizes preventable diabetes-related obesity in children as an “extension of [diabetes] to the young where health care professionals feel society and public policy have most glaringly failed. Diabetes, they say, should never have gotten there” (8).

One reason for the spread of 100% preventable illness like diabetes and diarrheal disease is social apathy amongst the world’s privileged who believe they are immune to the diseases and disparities of the poor.  Judith Hall writes that people tend to see themselves as individuals foremost, and as members of a connected population only secondarily.  According to Hall, this sociopathic apathy perpetuates misconceptions about health—particularly by providing a rationalization for the preventable suffering of the disconnected ‘other’:

Our modern world tends to emphasize the individual person. We are less inclined to think of ourselves as part of a species, as part of evolution. We rarely reflect on transgenerational effects, in other words that many biologic mechanisms are adaptations for survival of the species rather than survival of individual persons (Hall, 234)

Breaking away from this social disconnect is non-profit founder Shawn Seipler.  In 2008, the well-to-do business executive founded a organization called Clean the World, which recycles millions of bars of complementary soap from hotels to the developing world.  So far, Seipler’s organization has distributed nearly 10 million bars to nearly 50 nations worldwide.  Seipler claims that he “… stumbled on research saying millions of children could be saved each year across the globe if only they used soap and water to wash their hands. In particular, one study found that the top two killers of children younger than 5 — acute respiratory illness and diarrheal disease — could be cut by 60 percent if kids had regular access to soap” (Santich).  Imagine the lives that could be saved if everyone in the west harbored Seipler’s same values of connectedness and social responsibility.

Global Health Statistics Major Causes of Death in Neonates & Children Under Five in the World

Similar to the life years lost because of endemic diarrheal disease in the developing world, diabetes is rapidly the west’s 21st century plague of the ages: “Here, then, was the price of diabetes, not just the dollars and cents but the high cost in quality of life” (Kleinfeld, 2).  Maybe it will take a terrifying health crisis like diabetes in the developed world to finally do away with “first world” and “third world,” and create one world.

Statistics from

2 thoughts on “Clean the (Developed) World

  1. I find it sad, and very interesting at the same time that so many diseases and illnesses are so easily prevented. This fact speaks volumes about the society in which we live. In your post, you mention it is an issue of social apathy. People of privilege are unaware and act immune to the diseases of the poor. This is incredible when these privileged individuals could do so much in changing the lives of so many. For example, individuals like Shawn Sampler, has easily given many children hope and sanitation, using recycled bars of soap. Your post made it clear to me that although it is hard to make serious change, there is a way that determined and privileged individuals can make a big difference.

  2. This is an inspiring story. The idea of recycling hotel soap is creative, resourceful, intriguing. I think there is a lot of room for easy, but powerful ideas such as this to make an impact on the world. I also like the idea of social connectedness, that each of us is a piece in a much bigger puzzle. The west certainly has the resources to do much aid in the world at large, but lacks the motivation and sense of social responsibility. My question though, is how do we make people care?? How do you get people to look beyond themselves into causes such as this?

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