Despite its small population size, Eswatini (Swaziland) has the highest HIV prevalence in the world and has been greatly affected by the epidemic (UNAIDS, 2019). With this in mind, Daran and Teresa Rehmeyer began an outreach called CHIPS in Maphiveni. It was an intervention in the local communities in eastern Swaziland for impoverished and isolated HIV affected children and their caregivers to access health care. The goal was to develop a local clinic, employing and training local Swazi’s to provide services to their communities. Today, CHIPS stands for Community Health Intervention Programme in eSwatini.
One of the needs Daran and Teresa noticed was that of clean water. We had many clinic staff sharing they were experiencing gastrointestinal problems due to the contaminated water. The clinic also sees many community members with water borne illnesses.
Both of these systems give the option for clean water instead of collecting it from the Mbuluzi River or irrigation canals. This river suffers from animal and human fecal contamination as well as contamination from the sugar cane fields and mills upstream. There are no toilets at all in these communities, so everything ends up in the irrigation canals. In addition, there are crocodiles that one also needs to avoid when collecting water as people have been taken before. Simple purification methods are also financially out of the reach of most residents: bleach or extra firewood for boiling water are commodities beyond the financial reach of most.
When Daran and Teresa were back in the United States, they bought a water testing kit to see the actual extent of the contamination in the rural communities. The instructions on the kit said to wait for about 12 hours for the test to change color and show the degree of contamination. Within three minutes the test already began to change, showing the high degree of contamination in the water of the ditches.
To counteract the contamination, the health program provided VF100 home water filters to several squatter communities nestled in the cane fields around Vulvulane. Old cooking oil buckets were provided by a local grocery store to hold the water and the VF100 were attached. To ensure they were helping those most in need, they worked with the community Rural Health Motivators (RHMs) to generate lists of people. There were also community leaders who were identified that would be responsible for the overall water filter project.
The response to the water filters was great, but the long term and common challenge is the education and follow up with the community. Hours were spent on educating the community on the proper use and care, and with such filthy water, consistent maintenance is key. Coming back to the community months later, the people reported that they experienced a reduction in water borne illnesses when using the filters. They were very grateful to be able to get clean and clear water instead of the murky and smelly water they were used to. Check out our website if you are interested in seeing if the VF100 water filter is the best fit for your next project. If you would like to learn more about Daran and Teresa’s work in Eswatini, check out their website.