The consortium is developing Aquatest, the world’s first low-cost, easy-to-use diagnostic tool giving a clear, reliable indication of water quality.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that water-borne disease causes 1.8 million deaths annually, of which 1.5 million are of children under five. Over one billion people lack access to safe water. Most do not even know their water is unsafe and are at risk of potentially fatal diarrhoeal diseases.
The Aquatest project aims to give individuals and communities the information they need to identify unsafe water and to empower them to work towards improvements in water supply.
Aquatest involves a small, hand-held device, similar in concept to the home pregnancy-testing kit. The test results will be displayed as coloured bands and may show, for example, that water is safe for adults to drink but not for children, the elderly or the sick.
This will be the first off-the-shelf, low-cost and easy-to-use test that will detect the presence of E. coli, the internationally recognised indicator of faecal contamination of water. The sensitivity of the test will enable detection of ten E. coli colonies in 100ml of water – equivalent to finding a single coffee bean in 4,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Dr Stephen Gundry, director of Bristol University’s Water and Health Research Centre (WHRC), will lead the Aquatest project. The university will be leading a large, interdisciplinary team with expertise ranging from engineering, product development and microbiology to consumer preferences and behaviours and water policy and regulation. The research consortium includes WHO and other experts worldwide.
It is anticipated that within ten years, low-cost water-testing devices will be in widespread use in 80 per cent of developing countries for water testing by industry professionals, communities and individuals, leading to improved water management and a potential decline in water-borne diseases.