Preventing cholera could be as easy as straining water. In a new study accepted for the inaugural issue of mBio, researchers show that when you teach villagers how to filter their drinking water using cheap, readily available materials, some (but not all) of them still follow the guidance years later and reap the benefits in improved health.
The study followed up on communities in Matlab, Bangladesh, where researchers and public health authorities had trained many villagers in sari filtration – using one or more layers of sari fabric to strain out Vibrio cholerae from drinking water. In Bangladesh, collecting water falls to the women, and five years after their initial training, 31% of village women reported they were still filtering their water.
Christine Moe, Director of the Center for Global Safe Water at Emory University and the invited editor on the paper, points out that when it comes to disease interventions, the easiest solutions are often the best. “I think that the beauty of sari filtering is that it’s very simple, it’s low cost, and the original trial and this study both showed it was effective at reducing cholera,” Moe says. “Cost is a big issue, and this is practically cost-free,” she says.
Although almost a third of women reported filtering their water on a regular basis, in-home observations revealed the number was actually closer to 12%, which is not surprising, says Moe, since many villagers would probably tell the researchers what they wanted to hear, regardless of their actual practices. What did surprise Moe was that, despite this relatively low percentage of people consistently filtering their water, there was a detectable impact on cholera rates in their villages; even people who didn’t filter their water felt the benefits of their neighbor’s efforts and rarely fell into the highest cholera incidence category.
Despite the successes in reducing cholera rates, the authors acknowledge that too few villagers are keeping up with their filtering and that continuing education in the “how” and the “why” of filtering is a necessity.
A preliminary version of the paper is available on the mBio website, and a final, typeset version of the article will appear in the inaugural issue of the online journal in May.