Water filters – helping guard pregnant women from disease

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh - Mother-to-be Ayasha, 19, carefully sips the water from her newly installed water filter and smiles happily.

‘It tastes better than the water from the well!’ she announces to the family members who have congregated in the tiny living space to witness her reaction. Her mother-in-law Elambahar, 45, nods agreement. ‘The water from the filter has a fresh taste to me,’ she says approvingly.

WHO has imported 3,000 family filters and 150 of the larger units for patients in health-care facilities. Filters come in two sizes, costing US$30 for a household unit and US$120 for a community sized unit. The water filter units were procured from India, shipped to Bangladesh, and trucked to the WHO warehouse in Cox’s Bazar. Health sector partners collected the water filters from WHO warehouse and are distributing them among families with women in late pregnancy.

To enable people use and maintain the water filters, WHO has been training water and sanitation field staff, who in turn train community health workers to correctly assemble and set up the units.

So far, about 2,000 family filters and 50 large units have been distributed and are being progressively installed.

Since fleeing Myanmar last year, Ayasha has shared a rickety bamboo and tarpaulin shack with 8 other family members, including her frail grandmother-in-law Amina. In such overcrowded conditions, and with the cyclone season in the offing, it is easy for germs and water-borne diseases to spread.

WHO and partner agencies are also working on educating Rohingyas on the importance of hygiene, handwashing and safe drinking water.

WHO’s Incident Manager in Cox’s Bazar, Dr Khalid El Tahir, says the family filters are just one part of a comprehensive programme to provide safe drinking water across the board, from households to the largest health-care facilities.

“The filters may not provide a complete solution to safe drinking water, but they are a start,” he says.

“Our plan is to take water samples and have them tested at a Government laboratory after two months to ensure there are no problems with the water quality.’

Health sector partners - Food for the Hungry and Medical Teams International (FH/MTI), which runs Joint Rohingya Refugee Response Program in camps in Kutupalong and Balukhali, and primary health-care facilities and health posts, are training community health workers on assembling and using water filters.

FH/MTI Program Officer Abdullah Solaiman says recently 37 community health workers have been trained on how to assemble and install household water filters in households that have women in the last stages of pregnancy.

Community health workers play an important part in teaching easy-to-understand health messages and building trust with Rohingya mothers. “‘The purpose of the training is to teach community health workers the benefits of filtered water as a preventative measure against various diseases,” Abdullah says.

Team leader Toslima has her hands full supervising 13 women who visit 900 pregnant women in 7,307 households to check if they are using the water filters and cleaning them correctly.

‘I remind the pregnant ladies to clean the filters as part of a good hygiene routine to safeguard their families from diseases,’ says Taslima

World Health Organization’s work in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh is supported with funding from the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration- United State Department of State, European Commission Humanitarian Office, and the Government of Canada, Norway, Republic of Korea that enables WHO and its partners to address the urgent humanitarian health needs of hundreds of thousands people living in overcrowded camps, including pregnant women, facing high health and safety risks.