By Gitonga Njeru in Kakamega, Kenya
A comprehensive program using LifeStraw water purifiers to make contaminated water safe to drink is helping to reduce diarrheal related diseases among school children in western Kenya. Water diseases remain a problem in western Kenya provinces including Kakamega, and Vihiga counties.
Vestergaard, the parent company of Lifestraw, has developed, a high volume water purifier called LifeStraw Community that removes more than 99.9 percent of microbiological contaminants found in water including bacteria, pathogens and viruses. These cause waterborne illnesses such as cholera and typhoid. With the LifeStraw purifier, the water is now safe to drink.
During the first week of November, Vestergaard distributed more than 2500 LifeStraw Community water purifiers to 330 schools throughout western province that lack access to safe water. School visits included installation of the LifeStraw purifiers, and education for students and teachers on safe water practices.
Western Kenya, according to the Ministry of Health, remains one of the most affected regions in the country with serious water crisis problems. According to Dr. Shanaz Sharif, Director of Medical Services, there are about 1.8 million people in Western Kenya, including Kakamega, Vihiga, and Kimilili counties who lack clean water.
"The areas rain frequently so we have had cases of typhoid, diarrhoea, dysentry and even cholera. People have been drinking contaminated water. Some cases have resulted in deaths while others have ended up being referred to hospitals such as Kenyatta National Hospital. There are 1.8 million people who lack clean water in Western Kenya", Dr. Shariff said during an interview.
"LifeStraw products are distributed to schools free of charge,” explained Tara Lundy, head of program implementation for LifeStraw. This is made possible through an ongoing program by Vestergaard called Follow the Liters. Through this program, for each LifeStraw product purchased by a consumer in North America or Europe, one school child in western Kenya is provided with safe water for an entire school year.
This is the second year of the Follow the Liters distribution of LifeStraw purifiers to the region. “Combined with last year’s distribution, more than 361,000 school aged children in the region now have sustainable access to safe water,” explained Lundy.
LifeStraw filters water to U.S EPA drinking water standards. The products require no electrical power or batteries and are designed to last. Vestergaard local staff conduct follow-up visits to the schools throughout the year to make sure that the LifeStraw purifiers are well maintained and properly used.