I love using the toilet in the office of a health NGO that’s looking for funding and they don’t even have any soap. It’s a good proxy indicator. Especially if they’re looking for health and hygiene funding.
A friend of mine, who works in health in this part of the world. I agree with this sentiment fairly closely. Soap is one of the easiest, simplest, cheapest, and most effective health interventions. The use of soap dramatically reduces the transmission of a great deal of communicable disease, including those that are traditionally thought of as aerosolised. It requires a change in behaviour that is not difficult and nor is it hard to understand. However, it must be sustained and enculturated. Currently a lot of work is being done to promote sanitation in the Indonesian archipelago; on the one hand by organisations such as AusAID, who have instituted programs using community-led self-shaming to motivate long-term change, and also by large consumer product businesses. Soap is a commodity that is cheap to produce and required eternally. To the extent that you can differentiate it in the market and charge a premium for branded or ‘special’ (anti-bacterial, liquid) soaps, it can also be highly profitable. These bode well in the medium term. It will take a while to get it right though, and in the meantime we’ll continue to see plenty of households, businesses, and even health NGOs lacking the basics of sanitation.