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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – Cloth Filters Fight Cholera - 2003-01-24

Broadcast: January 27, 2003

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Researchers have discovered a simple answer to a huge problem in developing countries. They have found that cholera and other deadly organisms can be removed from drinking water with simple cloth filters. Pouring water from rivers or lakes through several thicknesses of cloth can trap tiny organisms that contain the cholera bacteria.

Researchers discovered this fact during a three-year study in Bangladesh. American and Bangladeshi scientists went to sixty-five small villages in a country where cholera is a major health problem. They tested the use of saris as cloth filters. A sari is the traditional clothing worn by most women in Bangladesh.

People in one group of villages used cloth from old saris, folded eight times, as a filter for their drinking water. People in another group of villages used modern nylon filters for their water. People in the other villages continued to gather water in traditional ways, without using filters. About forty-four-thousand people were studied in each of the three groups of villages.

Rita Colwell from the University of Maryland at College Park helped lead the study. She said the people in the villages using filters from old saris had the lowest number of cases of cholera. The researchers also found that almost ninety-nine percent of cholera bacteria could be filtered out with the sari cloth. Mizz Colwell said that cloth from old saris worked best because it has been washed repeatedly. She said the space between the threads of the material narrows when the cloth is washed so it traps smaller particles.

Cholera is an intestinal infection caused by bacteria. It can develop in the body in less than five days. It can quickly lead to severe diarrhea, vomiting, and a loss of bodily fluids. Death is possible if treatment is not given quickly. Children under age five are most at risk. In two-thousand-one, the World Health Organization reported almost two-hundred-thousand cases of cholera in fifty-eight countries. About three-thousand people died from the disease.

Cholera spreads quickly in developing countries. People get the disease by drinking water or eating food that contains the bacteria. The disease is most often found in areas where there is unclean water and ineffective human waste removal systems.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.