April 2010

Aquatest: Expanding Microbial Water Quality Testing for Drinking Water Management

Introduction

A lack of adequately equipped laboratories and available skilled staff is a common problem for water quality testing in some developing regions, particularly in small-town or rural settings. In this article Zarah Rahman, Ranjiv Khush and Stephen Gundry talk about an international multi-disciplinary R&D project aiming to address this issue.

The single greatest health risk associated with inadequate or unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene is gastrointestinal illness, or diarrhea, which contributes to 39% of the disease burden associated with poor water, sanitation, and hygiene conditions. Approximately 4 billion cases of diarrhea occur globally every year, resulting in 1.5 million fatalities that are largely among children under the age of 5. Consequently, water supply management programs that improve drinking water quality and reduce diarrheal disease risk will provide significant gains in global public health.

Effective tools for collecting and managing water quality data are essential requirements for water supply improvement and maintenance. Regular operational monitoring by water suppliers and surveillance testing by health agencies can trigger corrective actions, provide justification for additional resources, and, as a result, facilitate overall improvements in water quality. Most accepted methods for microbiological water quality testing, however, require laboratory facilities and skilled technicians. While these resources exist in most large urban centers of the
developing world, they are limited in smaller towns and rural communities.

The Aquatest research and development program comprises an international, multidisciplinary consortium that is dedicated to the development of microbial water testing and data management tools that are appropriate for resource poor settings. The consortium is led by the University of Bristol, UK, and is supported by a four year, USD 13 million grant, awarded to the University of Bristol by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Upon completion of the research and development program in the fall of 2011, the Aquatest consortium expects to identify commercialization partners who will support the program’s mandate topromote global access to new water testing technologies.

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