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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Effectiveness of point-of-use water treatment technologies to prevent child stunting in South Africa

PI: Pascal Bessong,, University of Venda
U.S. Partner: James Smith, University of Virginia
Project Dates: February 2018 - February 2021

Project Overview:

In low-resource settings, lack of safe water and adequate sanitation has long-term detrimental consequences for child health and development. Continuous exposure to unclean water can lead to poor linear growth among children. In a recent study conducted on the study population that will be the focus of this PEER project, the Dzimauli community of Limpopo, South Africa, the prevalence of stunting increased from 12% in first month of life to 37% at 2 years of age. Stunting early in life is an important marker of long-term morbidity and has been associated with cognitive impairment, poor school performance, low adult economic productivity, and increased risk of chronic disease later in life. Interventions that improve access to safe water and sanitation have the potential to make a significant impact on child stunting but have not been well-studied towards this aim. The municipal water supply for the Dzimauli community is not consistent, and community-level water treatment systems are not available. Less than 20% of households reported treating their drinking water in 2009, which suggests that there is a clear need for an acceptable drinking water solution.

The U.S. partner Dr. James Smith and his research team at the University of Virginia have participated in the development of two point-of-use water treatment technologies that have demonstrated technical efficacy, sustainability, and social acceptance in several low-resource communities: the silver-impregnated ceramic water filter and the silver-impregnated ceramic disk, called a MadiDrop. However, it is unknown whether the use of these technologies will translate to improvements in child health outcomes. This PEER project will involve a community-based intervention trial that will estimate the effectiveness of the two technologies to reduce pathogen exposure and prevent stunting among children in Limpopo. Dr. Smith will manage use of the technologies during the trial and provide support in developing study materials and laboratory protocols. Estimates of effectiveness demonstrated in this trial will provide the necessary evidence base to support the scale-up of manufacturing and distribution of the products. In this way, this research will support interventions that have the potential to contribute to the World Health Organization target to reduce the number of stunted children under 5 years of age by 40% by 2025. This project will lead to capacity building locally at the University of Venda (UNIVEN), which is a rural and historically disadvantaged university in South Africa. More than 40 students and staff will be trained, including students and trainees from the University of Virginia, our USG-supported partner’s university. The PI and his colleagues also plan to participate in community outreach to generate interest in scientific research among youth (high school students) in Limpopo in collaboration with the Vuwani Science Resource Centre. If the technology is proven effective, it will result in policy recommendations to local agencies. In addition, the project will support local commercialization of the ceramic water filter, thereby increasing opportunities for the highly skilled women who make them from locally-sourced materials.

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