Here at Medgadget we cover the latest in high tech medicine, so it is no surprise that many of the devices we profile help doctors save lives, but cost millions of dollars. That is due primarily to the fact that the developed world has overcome diseases and conditions, such as diarrhea and dysentery, that continue to ravage large swathes of the Third World. Yet cheap technological solutions exist that can save millions right now, and LifeStraw from Vestergaard Frandsen, is a perfect example. The Swiss company that makes it has been supplying mosquito nets to regions suffering from malaria and is now addressing diseases arising from dirty water with a device that purifies it at the point of consumption.lifestraw-family-water-filter-africa

We recently had a chance to sit down with  Elisabeth AnneMarie Wilhelm from Vestergaard Frandsen, who gave us an overview of the company’s efforts. Because a lack of clean water, and the infrastructure to supply it, is typically due to more structural issues within the affected nations, there is often no hope that water treatment plants are going to be built and pipes installed any time soon.  And so for decades entire regions around the world have been resorting to boiling water using locally chopped wood as their only option of purification.  Not only is this probably not very good for the environment, the amount of time and labor spent harvesting wood could be going into other tasks, like laying pipe for example.

The LifeStraw Family is a cheap, easy to use, and highly effective filtration system that will remove just about all pathogens (99.9999% of bacteria, 99.99% of viruses, and 99.9% of protozoan parasites) from water that is poured through it.  The device requires no electricity and is a purely mechanical filter that relies on the weight of the water in the 1 meter tall column to perform the filtration.  Because of the design of the device and, unlike the previous iteration, the fact that it does not use any chemicals for water treatment, it has been shown to work effectively for at least 18,000 liters (that’s three years for a family of four), and possibly for a lot longer if proper regular cleaning using the blowback pump is performed.  And unlike a multi-million dollar water treatment plant, the LifeStraw does this for about $25 and without the local government having to be competent or caring.

One current project that doesn’t require any private charity or government assistance that revolves around the Lifestraw is Carbon for Water. Vestergaard Frandsen, a for-profit firm, has been able to distribute about four million Lifestraws throughout a province in Kenya by collecting funds via carbon credits that are traded in exchange for the saved carbon from all the firewood that would have been burned.  Whatever your view on global warming and carbon credits, not having to have four million people burn firewood everyday while improving their lives and their health is not a bad proposition.

LifeStraw™ is a simple device, still in a prototype phase, designed for those unfortunate people in the third world who do not have access to clean drinking water. The pipe is composed of two textile filters, followed by a chamber with beads impregnated with iodine

Functionality and use of design:
What first meets the water when sucked up is a pre-filter of PE filter textile with a mesh opening of 100 micron, shortly followed by a second textile filter in polyester with a mesh opening of 15 micron. In this way all big articles are filtered out, even clusters of bacteria are removed. Then the water is led into a chamber of iodine impregnated beads, where bacteria, viruses and parasites are killed. The second chamber is a void space, where the iodine being washed off the beads can maintain their killing effect. The last chamber consists of granulated active carbon, which role is to take the main part of the bad smell of iodine, and to take the parasites that have not been taken by the pre-filter or killed by the iodine. The biggest parasites will be taken by the pre-filter, the weakest will be killed by the iodine, and the medium range parasites will be picked up by the active carbon. The main interest to everyone is the killing of bacteria, and here our laboratory reading tells us that we have a log. 7 to log 8 kill of most bacteria. This is better than tap water in many developed countries.
Drawbacks of life improvement:
If we were not able to control the output of iodine there could have been a draw back there, but with the existing iodine deficiency in most 3rd world communities, WHO would have appreciated if we had had a higher release of iodine. We have, however, chosen to put in so much granulated active carbon, that no consumer shall discard the filter due to chemical taste.


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