Safe Water for Health Now Conference

Global experts in household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) met at Boston University to discuss challenges and strategies for providing safe water to nearly a billion people.


  1. BOSTON, Jan 27 2012 -- Nearly 1 billion people are without access to sources of clean water and regularly drink, cook and wash with water collected from untreated rivers or contaminated wells. Waterborne microbes can trigger a cycle of diarrhea and malnutrition that combine to form an unrivaled killer of children. Of the 2 million annual deaths caused by diarrhea, most are children under 5 -- more than are killed by AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

    The conference was moderated by David J. Olsen and began with remarks by Dean Robert Meenan of the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) that underscored the unifying nature of water, both as a vital resource and a critical area of study:
  2. The conference arose from a partnership between the BU Center for Global Health and Development (CGHD) and Vestergaard Frandsen, a European company that specializes in "complex emergency response and disease control products." One of those products is LifeStraw, a small personal filtration unit that allows users to drink microbiallly safe water from untreated sources. It  and is designed to fit the company's business model of "humanitarian entrepreneurship." CGHD Director Jonathan Simon emphasized that goal:
  3. As the company's CEO later said:
  4. Gunther Fink, an assistant professor of international health economics at the Harvard University School of Public Health, told attendees that the lack of safe water can negatively affect children's health in ways other than diarrhea. 
  5. Fink briefly shared the results of a 2010 study of 172 data sets from 70 countries that found "a robust association between access to water and sanitation technologies and both child morbidity and child mortality." The study also found evidence of the Mills-Reincke Phenomenon, a multiplying effect seen in some widespread disease outbreaks when infections cause more deaths by related ailments. 

    Christopher Gill, an associate professor of international health at BUSPH, explained some of this effect with a breakdown of the myriad ways diarrhea can degrade health.
  6. Efforts to secure safe water in developing areas have increasingly moved toward HWTS interventions that can be deployed faster and cheaper than most large-scale water supply projects. Michael Steen Lunde of Vestergaard Frandsen introduced a team of BUSPH students -- Meg Meyer, Dominique Chambless and Anya Thomas -- presented a case study of three products currently used in Ghana: