Dr. Rita Colwell has studied cholera for nearly 50 years, and has written more than 700 publications and received at least 40 honorary degrees. Her team helped develop an incredibly simple method to help the people of rural Bangladesh have cleaner, safer drinking water. “We found that sari cloth that comprised the dresses that women wear, if folded about four times, gave a very nice mesh filter, with small enough pore size to trap plankton.”
Cholera is transmitted by water. The bacteria that causes the disease … (naturally occurs) in the aquatic environment. That’s a discovery that my laboratory made some 25 to 30 years ago. When ingested, it attaches to the intestine and a toxin is most frequently produced. The result is severe vomiting, diarrhea and if a person doesn’t have their fluid replenished, dehydration and eventually death (results).
Having done an enormous amount of research showing the ecology of the cholera bacterium, (we found) it was definitely tied to plankton. The cholera bacteria is part of their natural flora. It occurred to us that by simple filtration to remove the plankton, we would filter about 99% of the bacteria, leaving just a few suspended in the water. So then, we hypothesized, we could reduce cholera significantly by educating women who collect water for their household to use cloth filtration.
We found that sari cloth that comprised the dresses that women wear, if folded about four times, gave a very nice mesh filter, with small enough pore size to trap plankton. A three-year study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Nursing Institute that involved about 50 villages and over 150,000 people, and sure enough, by having women filter their water collected from the ponds and rivers every day, we showed about a 50% decrease in cholera. A very simple step, and very important.