Safer drinking water for millions
10 June 2008
Aquatest, the world’s first low-cost, easy-to-use diagnostic tool that will give a clear, reliable indication of water quality.
Over one billion people lack access to improved water sources; over two billion lack access to basic sanitation. The fight to combat this problem – one of the most serious threats to child health in developing countries – has received a grant for $13 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This will facilitate the development of Aquatest, the world’s first low-cost, easy-to-use diagnostic tool that will give a clear, reliable indication of water quality. Aquatest is the result of groundbreaking work by an international consortium, led by Dr Stephen Gundry from the University’s Department of Civil Engineering.
Aquatest involves a small, hand-held device that indicates whether the water is safe to drink or not by displaying the test results as coloured bands, indicating the degree of contamination. The kit could be used in many ways. Although water is provided in some areas by government or water utilities, it is still possible for it to become contaminated before being drunk. If a cheap test could produce reliable results without the need for a laboratory or special training, water engineers could arrange for their staff to test the water regularly. Even in remote areas, visiting health workers or community volunteers could undertake water testing to ensure safe water is arriving in villages.
Where no water is piped into a village, communities arrange their own water supply. This could be a naturally occurring source of water (a spring, river, lake or pond) or a well or borehole. These communities have a strong interest in ensuring water quality for their families, but at the moment they have no way of knowing that the water is free from E. Coli. They could make good use of Aquatest that would allow them to check the cleanliness of the water.
The project’s vision is that low-cost water-testing devices will be in widespread use in 80 per cent of developing countries, within ten years.