ABU DHABI // A simple copper device based on an ancient method for storing water may save the lives of millions of children around the world, experts say.
Dr Ahmad Khalid, who was raised and educated in the UAE, is managing a project that is hoped to make water containing deadly bacteria safe to drink.
The device, now undergoing year-long tests in Kenya and India, is a coil of electric copper cables that is suspended in water. It has been proven in the laboratory to kill the pathogens.
About 2.2 million people die of infectious diarrhoea every year, mostly children below the age of five and mostly in developing countries, said Dr Khalid, 29, a Jordanian.
“The device could prove to be one of the simplest and cheapest ways to purify water from enteric pathogens,” said the former pupil of the American International School in Abu Dhabi.
“It does not require energy to function, lasts a lifetime and is easy to use in a rural household. It could help save millions of children across the world, particularly in developing countries like Kenya and India.”
The inventor of the device, Dr Padma Venkat from India, observed that if a small copper coil were left in a container of water overnight, virtually all deadly water-borne pathogens were killed and the water became potable.
Copper generates free-radical ions, which quickly break apart and kill bacteria that cause water-borne diarrhoea, said Dr Khalid.
“We demonstrated that the ancient Indian practice of storing drinking water in copper pots is a simple way to get rid of diarrhoeagenic bacteria,” he said.
“Since copper pots are expensive we have developed an innovative device, which is a cost-effective adaptation of this practice.
“It has the flexibility to be used in any container, is durable, easy-to-use and maintain. Early evidence suggests that it works under laboratory conditions and is safe.”
Field-testing began in poor urban and rural households in Kenya and India last month, with a C$100,000 (Dh353,500) grant from Grand Challenges Canada. Dr Khalid lives in Ottawa.
The trial is being held in 200 homes in the slums of Chennai, sample communities in Kwale County in coastal Kenya, and a slum area around Nairobi.
“We will document its effectiveness, safety, factors affecting its acceptance and uptake, and propose a business model for its eventual scale-up,” said Dr Khalid.
“By the end of the 12-month trial we expect to see water contamination reduced, the incidence of diarrhoea coming down and, hopefully, people will be accepting the product.
“If all goes to plan, we will have a low-cost product that can be manufactured locally in bulk by community-based businesses.”
The next step will be to apply for a Grand Challenges Canada phase 2 grant of up to C$1 million to develop a business model for production and distribution, with the involvement of the communities, government and enterprises.
If the field trial is successful the device will be commercially made. Its market price is about C$10 for use in 10-litre water containers and it lasts a lifetime.
“It may further work out to be cheaper when commercially manufactured. The coil could enter production in as little as 18 months from now,” Dr Khalid said.
Conventional water-treatment methods such as chlorination, filtration and energy-intensive boiling are impractical in the rural areas and urban slums of developing countries, he added.
He said the copper device was useful in killing water-borne pathogens such as E.coli and Vibrio cholerae.
Dr Khalid said 88 per cent of diarrhoeal diseases worldwide were attributed to contamination of drinking water by microbial pathogens.
The project is a collaboration between Dr Khalid, Dr Padma Venkat, director for the Institute for Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine in India, and Kenyan Dr Caroline Kisia, the executive director of Action Africa Help International, a non-government organisation based in Nairobi.
All three are part of the International Masters for Health Leadership programme at McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal, Canada.
Dr Khalid lived in the UAE for almost 16 years before attending university in the United States.