What can kill you in less than 3 hours, and be treated with salt and clean water?

9 11 2010

No, it’s not a jellyfish sting, or lethal poison – the surprising answer is Cholera.

According to the CBC, over 7000 people have been infected in Haiti over the last week, resulting in the deaths of 500 individuals, many of whom could have easily been saved if Haiti had the proper infrastructure in place to treat them. There has been no cholera outbreak in Haiti for around 50 years, and the initial reaction was one of confusion as many Haitians just did not know how to avoid the disease (BBC News).

Directly from the World Health Organization website: “Cholera is an easily treatable disease. Up to 80% of people can be treated successfully through prompt administration of oral rehydration salts (WHO/UNICEF ORS standard sachet). Very severely dehydrated patients require administration of intravenous fluids. Such patients also require appropriate antibiotics to diminish the duration of diarrhoea, reduce the volume of rehydration fluids needed, and shorten the duration of V. cholerae excretion. Mass administration of antibiotics is not recommended, as it has no effect on the spread of cholera and contributes to increasing antimicrobial resistance. In order to ensure timely access to treatment, cholera treatment centres (CTCs) should be set up among the affected populations. With proper treatment, the case fatality rate should remain below 1%.”

Cholera is a disease which is believed to have originated in India, and which thrives in disaster-type situations like this one, such as floods, hurricanes or earthquakes which disrupt normal water treatment routines. The original outbreak is believed to have started approximately three weeks ago, but the number of cases have drastically increased since Hurricane Tomas struck last Friday, causing flooding across western Haiti. Unfortunately the bad news continues to grow, as one of the rivers which has been identified as a source of the epidemic is soon expected to overflow with excess water.

The best intervention strategy for reducing cholera deaths is through a combination of  controlling the disease spread through provisions of safe water, proper sanitation and immediate education about the disease to the affected population group. Infected individuals can be difficult to identify since most are asymptomatic, but insuring access to quick treatment to those persons who do show signs of the illness helps to prevent further spread and save many lives. Providing safe water and sanitation is a major challenge, particularly in emergency situations, however it has been shown to be the critical factor in reducing the number and spread of infections.

Perhaps this is another opportunity for the use of SODIS (solar disinfection of drinking water) to be taught and used as a weapon against the further spread of this deadly disease. This simple method of disinfecting drinking water can be readily achieved by filling a clear plastic bottle with collected water (which has low turbidity) and leaving it out in the sun for more than 6 hours. (Stay tuned for a more in-depth follow-up post about SODIS, how and when it works, and benefits of using it to disinfect water.)

Written by Sarah Topps – 2010

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2010/11/07/haiti-cholera-toll-rises.html?ref=rss#ixzz14l2qWRgI





To master or not to master?

18 03 2010

As an honours student at a top university, I have been frequently asked what my post-grad plans are in the months leading up to my graduation. Many of my peers have applied to grad school, and many will succeed, given the competitive push amongst those of us who have lasted through our undergraduate degrees. I thought I would investigate this line of thinking and see how common my choices were…

My top choices currently stand as follows:

1. Masters of Public Health at Simon Fraser University

2.  Travelling to Cameroon to work with Aquacare, a locally-founded organization which is promoting SODIS (solar water disinfection) – the topic of my current thesis

3. Travelling to Angola to work with Karen Henriksen and the Centro Evangelico de Medicina de Lubango (although I would need to learn more Portuguese first)

4. Masters of Public Health at Queen’s University (although more of an Epidemiology focus than SFU)

5. Working as the Morocco consultant for the Rickshaw Travel company located in Brighton, England

6. Working temporarily for Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) – a job I’ve already been interviewed for, that would help me work off my student debt, let me travel and improve my language skills

There are others, but those are the top ones which appeal to me at the moment. Several internships also appeal, although I plan to find out if my applications to grad school are successful before applying.

Being at university, and especially as a B.A. student, I often feel as if everyone and their dog has a university degree these days – which can be seen in both a positive and a negative light. After applying to grad school, I thought about the number of my friends from high school who didn’t go to university, and wondered what the national statistics had to say about the matter.

The answer is surprising – only 19.4% of Canadians (2007) have completed a university degree. This includes all bachelors degrees, masters and PhD’s in the country. If you also include CEGEPS, colleges and technical degrees, diplomas and certificates, the number rises to 46%, which is apparently the highest proportion in the world!

Wow. I feel much smarter now – thanks Google! I have been so immersed in the academic environment for the past 5 years that I haven’t stopped to realize both how lucky and how talented we students are as a group of people in this country, and globally. Having realized this, and knowing that the rate for a master’s program must be that much lower, I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for being accepted. I just hope that I have eased someone else’s mind in the process of writing this!

– Sarah Topps





How to Make Money and Change the World

1 12 2009

Recently a good friend of mine and his family heard that I had never experienced an American Thanksgiving and were thoughtful enough to invite me down to visit with them for the weekend. Needless to say, the meal was decadent, and both the conversation and the wine were sparkling. [An extended thank you to the Vitek family!]

While I was down in the USA, my friend took me to meet some friends of his for a night out in small-town America. We visited a local bar, ate bagels slathered in cheese and spicy meats and chatted about our various university degrees and jobs. One of his friends, Tsewang, was a young woman from Nepal who I chatted with for an hour or so about international development and social entrepreneurship (two of my favourite topics!) as well as some less cumbersome subjects. At one point near the end of our conversation, I mentioned to her that I was hoping to start a pilot project for solar water disinfection (SODIS) in Angola next year, and she told me that, being from Canada, I ought to look up an organization called Dream Now“.

After returning from the weekend, I had all but forgotten about her wonderful suggestion when I stumbled onto their website this afternoon. Reading descriptions about how they literally built blanket forts in various rooms across the country in order to facilitate comfortable discussion, I was absolutely intrigued. Ravenous for more of this truly out-of-the-box approach, I dug a little deeper on their website and discovered this jewel of a bookHow to Make Money and Change the World

Not only was it one of the most helpful and innovative books I have read on the subject of finding a job in our generation – it was free! Beautifully designed and available online for download, and redistribution, I thought – well! that’s my Christmas shopping done for every friend I have who’s about to graduate from international development! (On a fair note, being a student, I otherwise probably was just going to wish them Merry Christmas on their facebook walls or twitter, so this is quite the improvement as far as free gifts go...)

Occupation: Change the World

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in working for positive change – either in international development, or other fields of social change.

– Sarah Topps








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