DR Congo: Finding New Ways to Save Lives
20 September 2017
In the rainforests of Beni Territory, families face life-threatening challenges—conflict, forced displacement, and outbreaks of disease. Medair supports 12 health facilities in the region; without them, tens of thousands of people would have no viable way to receive medical care.
Maintaining good hygiene and disinfection practices in these health clinics is essential to keeping vulnerable patients safe from new infections. Yet until recently, it was difficult to obtain enough chlorine for disinfection. The supply was unreliable, and the quality wasn’t always good.
When chlorine is scarce, a clinic can become a high-risk area. “Disinfection is very important, but the need is not always visible, especially as people cannot see with their own eyes when bacteria are killed,” said Yannick, Medair WASH project manager.
Yannick proposed an innovative solution to the problem. Instead of waiting for chlorine to be delivered, what if remote clinics could make their own chlorine? He began experimenting with small, solar-powered WATA kits, developed by the Swiss foundation Antenna Technologies, which convert easy-to-access kitchen salt and filtered water into chlorine through a process of electrolysis. Within hours, he was able to produce enough chlorine to disinfect an entire clinic. He soon began training clinic staff how to safely manufacture high-quality chlorine themselves.
“We can now produce our own chlorine at very low cost,” said Dr Jude, the Medical Director of Biakato-Mines clinic. “The supply is reliable, and the quality is good. We have become independent from suppliers and do not need to worry anymore; the chlorine is very strong and always at hand. Thanks to Medair, we can now provide a safe place for our patients always.”
When a cholera outbreak struck the remote village of Mateka, five people died within three days, and 21 more became gravely ill. Thankfully, Medair had set up a WATA kit at the health facility there months before, so that staff were able to quickly double the usual chlorine production, and use it to disinfect the treatment unit, along with all the water sources and houses in the whole village. Community health promotors explained how to prevent the disease from spreading, and set up handwashing stations with chlorinated water.
Within two weeks, the outbreak was contained, and after five weeks, no more new cases of cholera were reported. “The WATA kit enabled the health facility team to respond quickly and appropriately,” said Yannick. “It also protected medical staff from being infected with the disease.”
Solar-powered chlorine production is a small but game-changing innovation being put into practice by the Medair WASH team and their local partners. We are exploring its use for treating drinking water in emergencies as well.
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Medair’s projects in DR Congo are made possible through the support of Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, US Agency for International Development, Medicor Foundation (LI), Migros (CH), Scherler AG (CH), UN Children’s Fund, Common Humanitarian Fund, Fondation Gertrude Hirzel (CH), and generous private donors.
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.
One limitation of the WATA kit is that the solution has a concentration of 0.6 percent active chlorine, whereas on some occasions, such as during a disease outbreak, a 2.0 percent solution is needed for a few special purposes such as disinfecting certain areas of the treatment unit. In response, Medair uses a box of highly concentrated chlorine powder and has trained staff how to use this to supplement the WATA kit. Chlorine produced by the WATA kit is sufficient for ordinary clinic conditions