A Kenyan among students who won Grand Challenges Canada grant


A low-cost copper device, which has been proven to kill deadly water-borne pathogens, will be field-tested in poor urban and rural households in India and Kenya thanks to a $100,000 Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) Phase I Proof-of-Concept Grant awarded to Drs. Padma Venkat, Caroline Kisia and Ahmad Firas Khalid, students in the International Masters for Health Leadership (IMHL) program at McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management.

“It will be very fulfilling to move my team’s research out of the lab and into communities,” says Dr. Venkat, Director of the Institute for Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine (I-AIM) in Bangalore, India. “Infectious diarrhea causes up to 2.2 million deaths per year, and most of these are children below the age of five. The situation is particularly dire in India and Africa, but it’s a global issue in need of a sustainable solution. Our team hopes to end some of the senseless suffering in the world and, ultimately save lives.”

Each year, water and food contaminated with bacteria, viruses and protozoa cause infectious diarrhea. According to World Health Organization data, more than 1 billion people lack access to an improved water source. Particularly vulnerable are children, immune-compromised persons, the poor, refugees, and internally displaced. Roughly 800,000 children die because 44% of those in low-income countries receive the recommended treatment.

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Inspired by the traditional Indian practice of storing drinking water in copper pots, Dr. Venkat designed a copper device for decontaminating drinking water. Made from high quality, electrical copper wires purchased from local hardware stores, the device is aimed at the sector of population that cannot afford a regular water filter and the repeated maintenance cost. Her team tested the device in the laboratory and found that simply storing drinking water overnight with the copper device kills deadly water-borne, diarrheagenic pathogens. The surface area to volume ratio of the copper device to water has been standardised for efficacy. The device is expected to cost about $10 CAD for use in 10L water containers and lasts a lifetime. It is “safe, effective, inexpensive, easy-to-use, requires no electricity to function, and no cartridges to recharge” adds Dr. Venkat. However, as with all research, its application needs to be tested and the successful GCC application provides this opportunity.

“IMHL created a sanctum sanctorum for this global health initiative because it brought together a great group of people with diverse healthcare backgrounds that augmented our learning and collaboration capacity,” highlights Dr. Venkat. “Thanks to IMHL, I met Dr. Kisia from Kenya. As the Executive Director of Action Africa Help International (AAH-I), a non-governmental organization based in Nairobi, she connected right away with the copper device’s potential impact. Dr. Kisia sent me the GCC link and asked if we could submit a joint proposal. Excited at the prospect, I suggested we ask classmate Dr. Khalid, an energetic strategist from Jordan who has worked with the WHO on maternal-fetal health programmes and currently teaches medical practice in Ottawa, to join us. Dr. Khalid agreed and suggested we ask Dr. Leslie Breitner, our IMHL Cycle Director, to mentor us. Dr. Breitner has since provided important assistance while McGill has lent its name to our collaboration. Subsequently, others joined in; I would like to mention Ms. Judith Horrell, who works at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal and has been instrumental with the communication and public engagement part of our work, and Prof. Satish Chetlapalli, Dean of Public Health at SRM University in Chennai, India, who helped with the design of the field study.”

“Each of us understands the ramifications of water safety and brings something special to this initiative. Together, we’re accomplishing far more than we could if we worked alone,” underscores Dr. Kisia. “We are very grateful for Grand Challenges Canada’s support and its Government of Canada funding. Our priority is to demonstrate copper device’s safety, effectiveness and acceptability to the communities that need such a solution. Our success should influence governments to promote it and support our next goal, which is to apply for GCC’s Phase 2 Transition-to-Scale Grant of up to $1 million.”

AAH-I will coordinate the Kenyan component of this research project while I-AIM will do the same in India and ensure compliance with international best practices. Drs. Venkat and Kisia will also propose a business model for the scale-up of production with local community and government participation. Baseline data on water quality, existing water storing/purifying practices and incidence of diarrhoea will be collected from households and public health records (where possible) in diarrhea-prone communities in rural and urban settings. Each test household will receive a copper device while control households will continue to use their current water-purification method. Household water handlers will be trained to use the copper device. Water quality will then be tested in test and control households at predetermined intervals for the presence of pathogenic bacteria such as E coli, Vibrio cholerae, Salmonella and Shigella. A reduction in both the bacterial load and diarrhoeal incidence is expected. .

Advisors Dr. Leslie Breitner and Dr. Ahmad Firas Khalid will provide project supervision and guide the development of the business model. In parallel, the intent is to engage the public through social media on this global health issue and the research’s progress; Ms. Judith Horrell will continue to drive this effort forward.

The IMHL is the brainchild of the internationally-renowned academic and author of management and organization, McGill professor Henry Mintzberg. It provides a specialized and novel learning opportunity for managers in healthcare organizations who wish to enhance their leadership and managerial skills while having a lasting impact in health care. Participants work in all manner of healthcare organizations, including hospitals, community care, public health, government ministries, international agencies, and foundations. The program is a collaborative effort of the Desautels Faculty of Management and the Faculty of Medicine. IMHL graduates earn a Master of Management degree.


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