Every year, over 17 million women in the poorest countries give birth in healthcare facilities without adequate water and hygiene measures, putting their and their babies’ lives at risk. Over 1 million deaths yearly are associated with deficient access to safe water during births. In resource-poor settings, basic interventions such as hand-washing can lower the risk of neonatal deaths by 44%, but this is only possible if water is available. Without water, the ability of healthcare workers to carry out proper infection prevention and control measures, and to demonstrate safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices to communities, is significantly compromised. This became even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, where access to clean water was critical to stopping the spread of the virus. That lack of water remains.
The SURG-Water transdisciplinary team are developing a sustainable, low-energy solution to address the problem of inadequate access to water in rural healthcare facilities in Malawi. Our particular focus is on the needs of mothers and newborn babies, as well as the clinicians providing maternal healthcare services. Using solar water disinfection biotechnology to treat harvested rainwater, we aim to provide a backup supply to address interruptions in existing water supplies. We are developing a prototype system adapted to the needs of district healthcare facilities. The planned studies will evaluate the feasibility, effectiveness and adoption of solar water disinfection technology in clinical settings to inform national scale-up.
Phases of the project:
To conduct a situation analysis to assess the water requirements (quantity, quality and reliability) at a sample of healthcare facilities and to assess water use in maternal and neonatal care. This includes surgical provider hand-washing needs, surgical instrument sterilisation, and pre and post-operative needs of patients and their family carers. This analysis will inform the solution concept and help to inform other future water assurance interventions.
To construct initial prototypes of the water treatment reactors capable of supplying safe water in two selected sites. In each case, the treatment capacity will be informed by the needs identified in the situation analysis. Also to evaluate the technology’s feasibility, adoption and effectiveness, with a particular focus on the experience of providers and users of maternal and child health services.
This project competes in the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) SDG Challenge. The project addresses UN SDG 3 Good Health and Wellbeing; SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation; and SDG 13 Climate Action.