Photos by McKay Savage
Sure, the clothes we wear may protect us from the elements, but some women in India are also using their saris to stave away disease, including cholera. The low-tech solution, which involves using the traditional Indian garment to filter pond and river water before drinking, is ingenious in its simplicity. And it works, too. A study in Bangladesh found the method effective in reducing cholera cases by nearly half.
FILTER FOR GOOD
In a 2003 field study, Rita Colwell and her colleagues from the University of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health demonstrated that cotton sari cloth, when folded at least eight times and used as a filter for drinking water, can reduce the incidence of cholera by up to 48 percent.
Besides removing plankton, the sari also filters out the bacterium that causes cholera.
Besides removing plankton, the cloth also filters out the bacteria that grows on the plankton, including the bacterium that’s responsible for causing cholera, an infection of the small intestine that results in watery diarrhea, vomiting, and life-threatening dehydration.
Five years later, a follow-up study showed that 31 percent of the 7,233 village women from the original trial continued to filter their water in some fashion. Of that segment, 60 percent used saris. Additionally, 25 percent of neighboring households that did not receive any instruction or training the first time around now practice filtration.
Households that didn’t filter their water but whose neighbors did also experienced fewer cases of cholera.
Because of the lower rate of filtration, incidences of cholera over that five-year period went down by only 25 percent. But researchers found an indirect benefit, as well: Households that didn’t filter their water but whose neighbors did also experienced fewer cases of cholera. How’s that for versatile clothing?