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submitted by Glenn Austin
11/06/2012 at 13:57

Hurricane Sandy brushed lightly by Chapel Hill as the annual UNC Water and Health conference unfolded. I was sucked into the conference right from the start, even missing the wild Halloween scene on Franklin Street! As in previous years, I was impressed with the range and relevance of the presenters and attendees. All aspects of WASH have evolved dramatically over the three short years the conference has been held. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the meeting of the WHO Network for Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage. There, our Safe Water Project team launched Perspectives magazine, which shares findings, tools, and approaches from our six-year learning initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  It was great to hear from attendees how relevant they found Perspectives in light of our changing world.

Especially gratifying was to see how attendees of the Safe Water Project workshop engaged with the three sets of WASH tools we shared. After overview presentations, we were to breakout for 25 minutes and reassemble for a discussion, yet no one wanted to leave. The cleaning crew chased us out at 5:15, after our discussions extended for nearly an hour.

Products and people were the main focus of a small but passionate group who met with Robyn Wilmouth, Safe Water Project engineer. Playing with new products, filters, and taps was complemented by video and deeper discussions of how to get it right with end users.

The largest crowd sat circled around Tim Elliott, our commercialization lead, as he dove into the Commercialization Toolkit.  The group discussed the tools’ relevance to all WASH actors, including smaller NGOs who seek efficiency, social enterprises who want sustainability, and even governments as they consider creating enabling environments that support provision of health-giving durable products through consumer-driven approaches.

Another animated and attentive group, led by Liz Blanton, our research and evaluation manager, discussed how to meet the needs of communities with nascent or non-existent commercial markets. This group examined strategies to understand community needs, constraints, and desires as prerequisites to providing tools that enable communities to create and maintain their own WASH solutions.  

Robyn, Tim, and Liz are just a small part of the dedicated and diverse team representing many different disciplines and partner organizations from the Safe Water Project. Together we’ve learned through failure, iteration, and inspiration over the past six years. Today our tools are much sharper and some of our models are continuing to thrive, scale, and evolve for changing and local challenges. The Perspectives magazine is chock full of photos and stories from our team. We worked to distill our learning to be easy to find, absorb, and probe. I hope you find it useful.

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 Indira, 25 year old woman holding a cup of water she poured from a water filter
submitted by PATH Safe Water Project
11/05/2012 at 13:10

PATH's Safe Water Project summarizes its findings in a new publication.

If households living on just a few dollars per day can purchase soap, shampoo, and cell phone minutes, they ought to have access to products that purify their drinking water. But do they? Will households spend money on water purification products? Are the products affordable and appropriate?

The Safe Water Project was launched five years ago to explore the extent to which commercial markets could meet the need for appropriate, affordable household water treatment products among low-income households.

This week, we present the most valuable nuggets of learning from the project in a new publication called Perspectives. The name, Perspectives, was chosen in recognition that ours is a unique, and in some ways limited, market-based view of safe drinking water and is just one of many ways to approach the global water problem.

The magazine format is new to us. We selected it because we felt it would be more inviting and accessible than a report. It forced us to be concise and relevant to both experts and non-experts who can then be selective about which in-depth reports to access online. Our vision is that this magazine, picked up for a quick browse, will reveal new and useful ideas about how to improve access to safe water using the power of markets in developing countries.

Each section highlights a different aspect of our work:

ORIGINS describes the reasons for focusing on the intersection between health, household water treatment, and the commer­cial sector.

PEOPLE describes what we learned about households and how their point of view helped us understand market limitations and opportunities.

PRODUCTS describes our efforts to stimulate choice and competition among HWTS manufacturers and build better HWTS products for the poor.

DISCOVERIES summarizes our commercial pilot projects, where we engaged companies in reaching low-income households with HWTS products.

IMPLICATIONS discusses our analysis and synthesis of results and provides our own perspective of what we learned and where to go next.

BEYOND describes how the results of our work might impact others in the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sector.

Our entire WASH team and our valued partners hope you will find the articles provocative and stimulating, as they represent a new direction in the HWTS field specifically and the WASH field more generally, which we think adds value to the ongoing work of the many committed researchers, governments, organizations, businesses, and citizens seeking to ensure safe drinking water for all.

View the magazine online:

Order a print copy by

All photos: PATH

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Baby receiving rotavirus vaccine
submitted by Deborah Phillips
10/29/2012 at 13:01

Malawi was a groundbreaker: The first developing country where research definitively proved that rotavirus vaccines will save lives in the world’s most challenging settings. A study in Malawi and South Africa garnered the first figures on rotavirus vaccine efficacy in high-burden, low-income settings and set the stage for a World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation that all countries introduce rotavirus vaccines.

PATH was a primary partner in that pivotal study, and I remember just two years ago when the data were ready for prime-time, when we worked on press releases and prepped spokespeople to spread the word: “Rotavirus vaccines work in the communities where they are needed most!” So many needed to know the good news: the WHO, considering a recommendation on worldwide use; politicians and health ministers, wrestling decisions on precious healthcare dollars; the GAVI Alliance, preparing to offer co-financing to countries that desperately needed rotavirus vaccines but could not afford them.

Today, mothers and fathers are the ones who most need to know. Today, rotavirus vaccination comes to all of Malawi. Data-points transition to lives saved as Malawi’s families face down the threat of rotavirus, armed with a few simple, lifesaving drops of vaccine. What began with 1,700 generous study participants now extends to each of the 1,800 Malawian infants born every day.

Malawi’s children now have a better chance at a healthy start, with fewer severe diarrhea episodes threatening their mental and physical development. Their mothers and fathers will miss fewer work days lost to caring for sick babies, their communities will carry less health care cost burden, and their country’s economy will grow.

Challenges to ultimately defeat diarrhea in Malawi persist, to be sure, with responsibilities for safe water, clinical interventions, and nutrition spread across varied government sectors. But tackling the leading cause of fatal childhood diarrhea in rotavirus could be a fortuitous start in establishing a cross-sector, comprehensive diarrhea control framework. PATH worked with a local steering committee to get these conversations off the ground. Enthusiasm was evident, and will be a strong force in guiding policy evolution through the coming years.

But let’s not overlook this very day. Today Malawi joins Sudan, Ghana, and Rwanda as the fourth low-income African nation to bring rotavirus vaccines to all of its children, with support from GAVI. I can’t wait to hear who’s next… and to spread that good news too.

Photo: PATH/John Victor

For more information:

-- PATH’s rotavirus vaccine access and delivery website

-- Fact sheet: Rotavirus disease and vaccines in Malawi

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submitted by Lisa Anderson
10/24/2012 at 10:31

Schoolchildren in rural Mazabuka Province, a 3 hour drive out of Lusaka, Zambia, are learning vital lessons in water, sanitation, and hygiene. Part of an integrated approach involving infrastructure improvements, capacity development, and peer educators who lead school-led total sanitation, WASH in schools is a central focus of Africare, an organization that specializes in community education, empowerment, and participation.

Africare implements school programs that encourage healthy behaviors through a curriculum that draws the connection between disease and unsafe health practices such as use of contaminated water. Students learn through visual and verbal demonstrations, peer education (two leaders from each grade level), and interactive education. Children from ages 8 to 16 perform plays, pantomime, poetry, song, and dance, all showcasing lessons on staying healthy, and what happens when you don’t follow safe WASH practices. They also paint “Talking Walls,” pictures on the walls outside their schools that demonstrate safe health practices. These performances and pictures and the messages they carry are powerful, reaching not just other school children, but the community at large.

One interesting program conducted by the Africare community trainer is called the ‘Walk of Shame,’ where school children go out as a class and identify open defecation, and on-the-spot messages on the importance of latrines are reinforced. “This program is very effective and repairs the sanitation behaviors of the children,” commented Alfred Mungamelo, Community Led Total Sanitation Advisor for Africare’s WASH in schools program. “It all starts in the schools, then is taken to the home, and then the community. Children have a low resistance to change so easily adopt wat/san practices. If you educate a child, you educate not just that child, but their family, their community, and the next generation. The parents’ reaction to the program is positive. The children are teaching the families. The parents say ‘I cannot reject what my child is teaching me.’ When you are empowering children, you are affecting the next generation, until eventually sanitation is an inborn thing.”

Alfred’s passion combined with purpose has made headway for credibility and effectiveness in the communities where Africare programs operate. His passion and purpose is contagious; Alfred is not only a champion health advocate and community empowerer, but someone who inspires others in the community to be the same. “Transformation is useless without the mind-set of transformation.”


School principals and teachers are also reaching the greater community through Africare’s WASH in schools program. Nachipooma Basic School was the first school in its community, and has ultimately provided benefits beyond education. Africare began its partnership with this school in 2007, when makeshift latrines were flooded beyond repair. Africare built 5 latrines and provided vacuum tanks to empty them, and also educated school staff on sewer maintenance. The new toilets were initially regulated for student-use only, but the Principal Eugene Nchimunya noted on reflection, “Everybody needs to use a latrine, and not everybody has one they can use. So I changed my heart. The toilets at the school are now used by the entire community as needed, contributing to decrease in open defecation and increase of sanitation in our community.”

In Mukuyu Village, the community is learning from their children and taking responsibility on themselves to build latrines, rather than waiting for aid. “One latrine per household” was the mantra of Mukuyu Village, where Africare extends its wat/san education, encouragement, and empowerment. Each household has built their own latrine with their own resources.

Our day in Mazabuka Province with Africare was filled with inspiration. It seemed like everybody we met, from the student, principal, and peer educator, to the community trainer and lay community member, was passionate about health and sanitation and improving their lives and their community as a whole.

In speaking on community empowerment and behavior change through WASH in schools and the importance of education and change starting with the child, Alfred left us with this poignant quote: “You can even change the world from a single drop.”  Alfred and Africare, we think you are doing just that, and congratulate your efforts; they are an inspiration to all of us.


-- Lisa Anderson, Program Assistant for the Vaccine Development Global Program at PATH


Photo credits, top to bottom: PATH/Gareth Bentley (1-4), PATH/Lisa Anderson (5-6)

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submitted by Eileen Quinn
10/18/2012 at 08:54

Warning: this blog might fall into the category of TMI, but we can blame Hope Randall. She’s relentlessly on the look-out for blogs, tweets, and posts, and when I told her I had to be out of the office for a colonoscopy, she dared me to blog about it. Now a better – and more discreet – person might have let that go, but I went with, “It’s on, Hope.”

I’ll be anesthetized for the procedure itself, but today, I have to empty out my system so that the doctors can have clear sailing.

Oh the pity party I have been having for myself about today: I can’t eat any solid foods (beef broth for breakfast, sigh). I can’t have coffee (because I never developed the talent for drinking it black). I have to drink lots of water all day. Tonight, I’ll miss my book club because I have to take a purgative and hang out near the bathroom as it takes effect. WOE is me.

And then, Reader, I came to my senses.

I have plenty to eat every other day – and frankly, I could stand to lose a few (or more!) pounds. I can drink safe water from the tap today and every day. I can use a toilet any time and just about anywhere: home, office, the grocery store. I’m having the colonoscopy as a precaution and if the doctors find a problem, I have access to health care.

And, of course, most don’t have what I take for granted. Which is why today is a good day to reflect on the disparity between what my family has and what so many families do without. And why, when I’m back to work, I’ll be grateful for the chance to contribute to defeating diarrheal disease.

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