Hand-washing device to combat disease

20 October 2010

South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has developed an innovative, affordable hand-washing device to enable poor communities to combat life-threatening water-borne diseases with minimal water usage.

According to the CSIR’s Ester Ngorima, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections caused the death of millions of children under the age of five in the developing world. Diarrhoea was estimated to kill around two to three million children annually.

Hand-washing with soap could cut these figures by half. However, water scarcity meant that many rural and peri-urban people in South Africa faced sanitation and hygiene challenges,” Ngorima said.

Easy to use, limits water usage

The device is easy enough to use – you need an empty two-litre bottle filled with clean water; the hand-washing dispenser is then be screwed onto the opening of the bottle.

“The dispenser releases enough water to enable hygienic hand-washing with soap,” Ngorima explains. “To get the water, place your hands under the device and lift the plunger. When you lower your hands, the device seals itself.

“The device limits water wastage, with around 30 hand washes per two litres of water. It has a soap dish and typically hangs upside down on a bracket fastened to a wall.”

Cutting down infection risk

While many people try using a bucket of water and a towel for hand-washing outside a toilet, the water evaporates from open buckets, and the continuous use of the same water leads to contamination.

Unsupervised children and domestic animals tend to drink this water, which is also exposed to dust.

“Experts say one gram of faeces can contain 10 million viruses, one million bacteria, one thousand parasites and one hundred worm eggs,” says Ngorima. “This increases the risk of serious infection and contamination if one does not wash one’s hands properly with soap after using the toilet.”

Commercialisation, sanitation drive

More than 110 000 of the CSIR’s hand-washing dispensers have already reached communities across South Africa. “This is mostly as part of municipalities’ sanitation drives and through non-governmental organisations in the water and sanitation sector,” Ngorima said.

The CSIR patented the device in 2006, and has set up a commercialisation agreement with two small black empowerment companies to sell the device in bulk directly to clients such as municipalities, contractors and non-governmental organisations.

The two Pretoria-based licencees, who cover all nine provinces in the country, are Zibako Trading Enterprises and Magnolia Ridge Properties.

SAinfo reporter

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