Thursday, 6 August 2015

SPHPM abroad: safe water project in India

The Infectious Diseases Unit of SPHPM’s Department of Epidemiology and PreventiveMedicine (DEPM), together with project partners at The Energy and Resources Institute, India (TERI), and researchers at the University of Rhode Island and Stanford University are undertaking a three year project funded by NH&MRC called ‘Improving the access to safe water using riverbank filtration’.

The project is located in the State of Karnataka, located in south-western India. The study involves recruitment of households from villages which draw water from the Krishna River (India’s fourth longest river) and use it untreated as their primary source of drinking water. Professors Karin Leder, Andrew Forbes and Ajay Mahal from SPHPM are all chief investigators in this project and will respectively contribute their expertise in infectious diseases, study design and statistical analyses and economic evaluations.

A stepped wedge study design will be employed and the planned intervention is Riverbank Filtration (RBF) technology which uses natural, auto-regenerative treatment processes to effectively treat water to remove waterborne pathogens. Professor Tom Boving of The University of Rhode Island USA is providing hydrogeological expertise to assist in the siting and construction of RBF wells. TERI researchers are providing expertise in community engagement and environmental monitoring to the project.

SPHPM researchers will undertake the important role of providing expertise in health evaluations and water quality investigations to measure the health benefits of provision of RBF treated water compared with untreated river water.

As part of this project, SPHPM Research Fellow Dr Jo O’Toole PhD visited India in July. She attended the TERI Ethics committee meeting in New Delhi. Questions asked of researchers at the Ethics Committee meeting included those about cultural aspects, incentives for village and individual household participation in the study, RBF technical details, social equity, and the nature of health records being sought.  Jo also undertook field visits to eight candidate villages located along the Krishna River in Karnataka.

Jo said that during field inspections at each village, village elders were consulted about the proposed study and asked questions about the existing water supply system and sanitation. “A participatory community model was used to gather information about the water supply system involving walking the length of the existing water supply system with village elders and taking notes.

“A Google map image of the village was used on which to mark water supply features such as pipework, community tanks and village standpipes. Stickers representing pumps, valves, storage tanks and other water supply features were employed to assist in the mapping exercise,” Jo said.

These are the same stickers used for a Water Research Australia’s ‘Community Water Planner Field guide’ which are used to map community indigenous water supplies in remote Australia.

Following the final selection of participant villages, the next steps in the project will involve a baseline health survey, construction and augmentation of water supply infrastructure, and the sequential introduction of treated RBF water, one village at a time.

“Health surveys will be conducted in all villages as each village is newly supplied with treated RBF water,” Jo said. 

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