February 18, 2011

$2.5M Gates grant to fund study of health risks from contaminated water

The Center for Global Safe Water in the Rollins School of Public Health has received a $2.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study ways in which individuals are exposed to human waste in cities of the developing world.

The Center for Global Safe Water project will develop methods to assess the risk that these contaminants pose to human health and provide critical information to help design effective interventions to prevent transmission of enteric diseases.

Rollins professors Christine Moe and Clair Null in the Hubert Department of Global Health; visiting professor Peter Teunis, also with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands; and Bernard Keraita of the International Water Management Institute, will lead the study, "Assessment of Fecal Exposure Pathways in Low-Income Urban Settings."

The study will begin with an analysis of sanitation practices and facilities in Accra, Ghana, and how residents in low-income neighborhoods are exposed to fecal contamination in their environment.

Accra is representative of many rapidly growing cities in sub-Saharan Africa. In Accra, like many coastal African cities, there are no operational public sewage and fecal sludge treatment plants. Trucks and marine outfalls dump most of the untreated excreta into the coastal ocean.

Based on the detailed results from Accra, the research team will develop tools to characterize exposure and risk.

The information from this study about the most common ways in which residents in Accra are exposed to fecal pathogens and the health risks associated with these exposure routes should be applicable to many other cities in developing countries.

"With the increasing trend toward urbanization all over the world, it is crucial that we understand the sources and movement of fecal contamination in cities and the primary pathways through which vulnerable populations, like children in low-income neighborhoods, become exposed to these hazards," says Moe.

 "We hope that the application of the tools we develop to study cities in developing countries will inform sanitation investment priorities and contribute to WHO-recommended approaches for assessing health risks from fecal exposures."

The study will help promote strategic investments in sanitation and facilitate evidence-based decisions on sanitation interventions, a critical step in reducing the disease burden and improving child health in developing countries.

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