Rapid Water Quality Testing
Diarrohea is a leading cause of under-five mortality, with hundreds of children dying every day. UNICEF is working with developers to identify an easy-to-use, rapid detection method to determine faecal contamination in water.
Globally, 2.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. Many rely on water from rivers, lakes or shallow wells that can be contaminated with bacteria like E.Coli. This can cause illness and death especially in young children, with over 700 children under five dying every day from diarrhoea linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.
UNICEF works with governments and communities to test household and community water sources for faecal contamination which is measured by testing for E.Coli bacteria in water samples in line with World Health Organization recommendations.
However, current testing approaches suitable for field use are time consuming, taking 18-24 hours to return a result. The equipment is bulky to carry to remote locations, highly complex to use and requires specialized professionals to perform the tests. In addition, in the remote settings where UNICEF works there is limited access to labs, electricity and cold chain transport.
This limits the ability to test drinking water on-site for behaviour change communication and during nationally representative household surveys, including for monitoring progress towards SDG 6 (access to clean water and sanitation).
Every day an estimated 700 children under five die from diarrhoea linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.
Current tests to detect faecal contamination in water can take 24 hours to provide a result and must be operated by trained specialists.
Working with industry, UNICEF has identified potential products that can return a result within 10 hours, but faster tests are needed.
UNICEF is calling on industry to develop an easy-to-use, rapid detection method or portable kit that can accurately identify faecal contamination in drinking water.
This would empower individuals and local communities to monitor and manage their water quality, ensuring their own health and safety. Data collected on unsafe water would also enable governments to make evidence-based policies and take timely, preventative actions at a national scale for improvement in water contamination.
In 2016, UNICEF launched a Target Product Profile (TPP) which outlines the specifications required for a new testing system. TPPs communicate requirements for products that are currently not available but fulfil a need in the unique context UNICEF and partners operate.
Already, early prototypes identified have cut the testing time from 24 hours to 10 hours. However, the ideal solution is under six hours which would allow UNICEF to run same-day behaviour change programmes and take preventative action immediately.
If a suitable product existed, the potential demand would be huge. Each year UNICEF supports approximately 100 national-scale household water quality surveys monitoring progress towards access to safe water, these require at least 1 million tests procured by UNICEF per year for this purpose alone. In addition, UNICEF would use the product in behaviour change programmes targeting the 2.2 billion people accessing sources of unsafe drinking water.
UNICEF uses a range of methodologies to identify risk in water adopting the most relevant method/s depending on where the testing is taking place. Current methodologies use E.Coli as the indicator in field locations and include:
- Portable lab kits
- H2S (presence/absence)
- Compartmentalized Bag Test (CBT)
- Compact Dry Plates
A rapid test will support governments and communities to massively scale up testing of water sources. This will provide more information on water quality so it can be treated, identify areas for improvement, and monitor progress towards SDG 6.
This will mean more children have access to safe drinking water, ensuring better health outcomes and avoiding thousands of preventable deaths in young children each year.