A Little Soap Makes a Big Difference in Haiti

Haiti Soap Clean the World
Clean the World gives needy Haitians soap.

Shawn Seipler used to be a high-powered e-commerce executive. Today, he's something even more powerful, reports CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook.

Now known as the pied piper of soap, Seipler seized on a simple idea two years ago - before the big quake, before the cholera epidemic: collecting all those little bars of hotel soap that get used just once, cleaning them with restaurant steamers, and shipping them off to places like Haiti where sanitary diseases kill millions of children every year.

"We're trying to clean the world and create a hygiene revolution," said Seipler, executive director of Clean the World. "We believe that in these developing countries that if we can bring the same kind of sanitation and health preventative maintenance of cleaning one's body the same way we do in the united states, we think we can change countries."

Clean the World

CBS News first met Shawn last October, on one of Clean the World's very first missions to Haiti. The lack of sanitation here, even before the earthquake, was appalling, and the people so desperate, the distributions often descended into chaos. As LaPook discovered, that hasn't much changed.

Diarrheal diseases are the number two killer of children worldwide -- taking 9 million young lives every year. But U.N. studies show that simple hand washing could cut those deaths by up to 60 percent.

Since the quake, Clean the World has delivered 1.5 million bars of soap to needy Haitians. And the epidemic has spurred an even greater response: 40,000 bars delivered last week with an 80,000 bar shipment arriving next Tuesday.

"Here now, seeing the need here, even though it gets a little tense, this is the fulfilling part of what we're doing," said Seipler. "This is just one tent city, there is just so much need around here, it just lights a fire to get more soap and get it into their hands."