Creating technology to save lives by preventing disease. That's the mission of the Vestergaard-Frandsen company, based in Switzerland. In this first of a five part series we'll talk about these devices, beginning with the pipe filter, which makes contaminated water safe to drink. The filter prevents guinea worm disease by cleaning the water and is distributed by the Carter Center in Atlanta. Kelly Callahan, the center's assistant director of program support, describes it.
"It's like a straw. It's a plastic tubing that has on the end farthest from the mouth a filter cloth, and the end closest to the mouth is open so that someone can suck water through the pipe filter. It has a string, worn around the neck so that it's an individual water filtering system that can be carried anywhere," she says.
The Carter Center specialist says the inspiration for the pipe filter came many years ago from a nomadic group in West Africa:
"There's a group of people called Tuaregs …and we were distributing filter cloths for household use -- they are nomadic people and they move with their cattle, camels and goats -- They found that the filter cloths were not appropriate for them, so they cut the filter cloth in small pieces and used reeds from water areas. They cut the reeds and dried them and took the cut pieces of filter cloth, tied it on the end and made their own straws."
Callahan says the pipe filter cloth has been replaced with a steel mesh providing a more effective and longer lasting filter. She says the filter has proven to be extremely effective over the years. As a Carter Center country representative in Southern Sudan in 2001, she was a witness. "We carried out a massive pipe filter distribution. We actually produced, with refugees, nine million, two hundred and eighty-five thousand pipe filters to blanket the entire country of Sudan at the time…in all areas that were endemic for guinea worm…and that served to reduce the number of cases dramatically in Sudan.
Callahan says in 1986 there were 20 countries with cases of guinea worm, but with the use of the pipe filter and other interventions, that number has dwindled. Now, she says, distribution is focused on Southern Sudan, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria, "Currently, there are only five countries that have cases of guinea worm disease, two of which have less than five thousand cases reported in 2008."
If the current trend of eradication continues, Callahan has reason to believe that guinea worm disease will soon be a thing of the past, "Hopefully, this year -- we'll be able to stop transmission of guinea worm disease in 2009. We all have our hopes set on that goal."
If you'd like more information on the Pipe Filter and other Vestergaard Frandsen products that prevent disease, go to their website at www.vestergaard-frandsen.com. Vestergaard is spelled v-e-s-t-e-r-g-a-a-r-d. And Frandsen is spelled f-r-a-n-d-s-e-n. Once again that website address is www.vestergaard-frandsen.com