By: Lizi Jones

Forget thrift stores and etsy--Bangladeshi women have come up with a novel way of repurposing old clothing, with life-saving consequences. Using old saris folded several times to filter water, women in areas without access to safe drinking water have cut rates of cholera by drastic amounts.

Cholera results from infection by a waterborne bacteria that breeds in unsanitary surface water. Clean water is scarce In impoverished areas like Bangladesh, as fuel to boil away contaminants is expensive and hard to find, and frequent floods further inundate the land and dirty what little clean water exists. Cholera runs rampant in these waters, fetching a mortality rate as high as 50 percent in poor countries without adequate medical resources.

This simple innovation, of a sari folded eight times, has the power to remove a staggering [99 percent](http://www.plexusinstitute.org/blogpost/656763/140508/Sustainable-Way-to-Purify-Water-Folded-Saris-Filter-Out-Pathogens) of particulate matter, microbes, and the bacteria that cause cholera from unfiltered water. What’s more, [old saris work better](http://www.sswm.info/category/implementation-tools/water-purification/hardware/point-use-water-treatment/straining-and-fi), as washing them--a simple matter of rinsing and drying in the sun--brings the fibers closer together, creating an even more stringent filter. Dr. Rita Colwell of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins [conducted a study in Bangladesh](http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC298724/) to model the effectiveness of the sari filtering regimen.

When she returned to Bangladesh [five years later], she found that 60-70 percent of the women she’d taught in her initial study still filtered their water, and had taught women in the neighboring villages to do the same. Even those who did not filter water benefited, as with the reduced incidence of cholera (ensured by the filterers) comes reduced chance of infection for everyone in a community.

While the cloth filter cannot protect against viruses or chemicals in water, it has the ability to block not only cholera, but other waterborne parasites, as well. The [guinea worm that plagues sub-Saharan Africa](http://www.ajtmh.org/content/67/4/415.long) and is generally passed through infected water, for example, cannot pass through mesh created by folded saris.

Colwell’s study was so effective in large part because it educated women in villages about the dangers of unfiltered water, and the effect of that teaching has persisted and multiplied. Following that model and adding simple cloth filters to the education roster of existing public health programs already in the field will reduce the incidence of the highly-preventable cholera worldwide.

It would be interesting to figure out how far the messages travel on their own and where the messages need to be re-introduced! Pass it on!

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in The Maternova Blog

DreamWarming, infant warming mattress, infant transport mattress, infant hypothermia solution
An innovation in the warm chain: The DreamWarmer

June 24, 2024 2 min read

The warming mattress (made up of strips of phase change material) can stay warm for 6 or more hours.  It is a flexible mattress that can be used in conjunction with skin to skin contact or with Kangaroo Mother Care.
Read More
antenatal corticosteroids expert advice from FIGO
Antenatal corticosteroids: FIGO states they should not be given “just in case”

June 06, 2024 2 min read

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the administration of antenatal corticosteroids is recommended in women with a pregnancy between 24 and 34 weeks who are at risk of preterm birth within the next seven days.
Read More
What's new in menstrual health management: an interview with the Founder of Asan
What's new in menstrual health management: an interview with the Founder of Asan

April 28, 2024 2 min read

The Asan cup is a patented menstrual cup with a unique removal ring, which makes it the easiest cup to insert and take out. The bell-shaped design ensures that the cup sits comfortably, and the red colour of the cup prevents it from staining over time. 
Read More