Spotlight from the CUGH Conference 2013: Innovative Technologies

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I recently attended the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) conference in Washington DC from March 13-16, 2013. I found the talks on Innovative Technologies most interesting, in part because technologies have a large impact on the everyday lives of people in developing countries. One technology that Dr. Sasha Kramer, an ecologist from Stanford University, presented was the design and implementation of a new type of compost toilet for use in Haiti, funded by grants and donations. Her idea aims to improve basic sanitation, reduce the risk of diseases like cholera, and create jobs for unemployed Haitians.

Kramer is the executive director and co-founder of the not-for-profit organization Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL), which has built more than 50 public composting toilet facilities in Haiti since 2006.  Eighty percent of the population in Haiti does not have access to basic sanitation and existing toilets are not well designed, with human waste flushing straight into rivers or groundwater. In this way the water supply is easily contaminated, and waterborne diseases like cholera are at epidemic levels in Haiti. From the SOIL website: “As of March 4, 2013, cholera has killed 8,057 Haitians and infected nearly 650,000 more. Despite some claims of progress, the epidemic, which was introduced by United Nations troops, has been significantly worse in 2013 than during the same period the year before.”

Kramer described how the compost toilets separate urine and feces, and a carbon mixture is used to cover the waste. The carbon mixture aids decomposition and consists of inexpensive materials found locally: ground peanut shells and sugarcane bagasse, a fibrous waste product. A SOIL worker changes the buckets weekly, and the waste is carted off to be composted. The waste is then dumped in a pile and covered with more sugarcane bagasse.

According to the SOIL website, the composting process heats the mixture to a temperature that promotes beneficial microbial growth and kills dangerous pathogens. After 8 months, the nutrient rich compost can be used for fertilizing crops. This compost toilet project also provides jobs for out-of-work Haitians, and encourages local governments to maintain the toilets.

Another technology discussed in this session was presented by Krista Donaldson, the CEO of D-Rev: Design Revolution, a company whose mission is “to improve the health and incomes of people living on less than $4 per day.” D-Rev is a non-profit company that is funded through individuals, grants and gifts in-kind.  She described a project particularly focused on amputations – which result from trauma, disease, and natural disasters in regions of Africa and Asia, and often leave amputees unable to afford a prosthetic device. Donaldson explained the process of designing the JaipurKnee, which is a high-performance knee joint for developing world amputees. The JaipurKnee is an inexpensive prosthetic that was designed to enhance mobility of the user, which is needed when walking on rough terrain, she said.

More information about CUGH and its annual conference can be found at their website http://www.cugh.org/

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