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Jenna Swarthout Bangladesh 2015

The generous support of the Center for South Asia Graduate Student Research Fellowship allowed me to spend my summer in Dhaka, Bangladesh. As a member of the Lotus Water team at Stanford, partnered with an excellent team of researchers at the International Centre of Diarrhoeal Disease, Bangladesh (icddr,b), I assisted with examining the impacts on health and health care related expenditures from in-line chlorination of municipally distributed drinking water.

Dhaka, home to more than 3.6 million slum residents, illustrates the difficulties many urban municipalities across South Asia face in maintaining large distribution networks; water that may be clean at the source often becomes contaminated as it travels through unpressurized, leaky pipelines. I arrived in Bangladesh expecting to understand how affordable chlorination technologies fit into the context of South Asian cultures, but walked away having had learned so much more.

During the course of my stay, our team was conducting the baseline surveys for a 16- month blinded cluster-randomized trial. With the help of local community leaders, our field research assistants interviewed about 20 households each day so we could gain an understanding of the economic, education, water and sanitation, and child health situations in our study area. Before I traveled to Dhaka, this understanding only came to me through reviewing data in a spreadsheet. After spending time in the field, I can now paint a picture of what everyday life might be like for each of the households in our study. I can imagine not only how chlorinated drinking water can impact a family’s lives, but can also explore other pathways for contracting illnesses in my future work. For example, a child might pick up contaminated shingara on his or her way to school. Or (s)he might have to catch a chicken that has been infected with roundworm. It’s one thing to read about these things in a journal article. It is a whole other thing to meet the children that are facing these difficulties.

To allow in-line chlorination to make an impact for a large number of people, our team has to ensure that there is truly a demand for the technology. As such, in my CSA application I proposed to explore the factors influencing a landlord’s decision to purchase (or not to purchase) an automated chlorination device for his or her property. This summer, I developed surveys to examine these motives. Data collection is currently underway to look at why landlords currently enrolled in our service decided to participate, and why other landlords have needed to uninstall their devices. Data analysis for this component of my work will occur in the coming academic year.

I extend my gratitude to the Center for South Asia for assisting in providing me the opportunity to advance my research interests in the field. Learning the process of designing and launching a study, networking with influential scientists from around the world, and connecting with the community influenced by potable drinking water research are just a few of the ways this summer has allowed me to grow tremendously as a researcher.

 

-Jenna Swarthout