Building the World

February 20, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Straws that Filter Bacteria and Parasites

“Bunch of drinking straws.” Photographer: Nina Matthews. Image: wikimedia commons.

Over two billion people in the world don’t have safe drinking water. Death from water-borne diseases takes more lives than violence and war. The answer may be in the humble straw, fitted with a filter. LifeStraw, for example, looks like a regular drinking straw, but inside are filters that can catch anything larger than  two microns, enough to block 99% of parasites, and bacteria that cause cholera, typhoid fever. LifeStraw was started by Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen who inherited his grandfather’s uniform manufacturing factory; instead, Fransen rebuilt the machines to make a straw with the steel mesh filter that was successful in wiping out guinea worm disease, which went from 3.5 million in 1986 to 25 in 2017. Partners include the Carter Center. The New River of England delivered clean water to London when the Thames needed help; Rome’s aqueducts saved the future of Rome when the Tiber became threatened by poison. LifeStraw has been used in disaster relief in Ecuador, Haiti, Pakistan, and Thailand. Present projects include an initiative to bring clean drinking water to students in locations including Kenya. LifeStraw won a design award at MoMA.

Carter Center. “Eradicating Guinea Worm Disease.” March 2014.

CFEG. “Mikkel Westergaard Frandsen: 17 Next Generation Family Enterprise Leaders to Watch in ’17” Cambridge Family Enterprise Group

Garvett, Zaria. “The miraculous straw that lets you drink dirty water.” 5 March 2018. BBC Future.

Katayama, Lisa. “Fighting Water-Borne Disease in Africa, and Making Millions in the Process.” 25 March 2011. Fast Company. 


May 24, 2013
by buildingtheworld

Public Health — Panama Canal

Panama Canal public health programs reduced malaria, spread by mosquitoes. Image: World Health Organization

Do you know how malaria got its name and how the Panama Canal helped to reduce the dreaded disease? Originally thought to be caused by “bad (mal) air (aria),” the term was coined in Italy’s marshlands. Frenchman Alphonse Laveran pioneered health science on malaria. But the breakthrough came when British scientist Sir Ronald Ross, inspired by Laveran’s work, on August 20, 1897, in Secunderabad, India, determined the role of mosquitoes in transmitting the condition. Sir Ronald was so excited he wrote both a scientific article and a poem about the discovery, perhaps one of the first instances of poetry composed by a pioneering scientist. Ross’ work was followed by Americans in Havana, Cuba, to combat malaria and yellow fever; the effort was lead by Surgeon Major W.C. Gorgas, United States Army. In 1904, the Isthmian Canal Commission invited Gorgas to visit the construction site for the Panama Canal, an area prone to malaria, with a rainy season lasting nine months in a tropical environment. Gorgas reduced the percentage of malaria-infected canal workers from 9% in 1905 t0 5% in 1906, and finally to 1.6% in 1909. Working with Gorgas, Joseph Augustin LePrince, developed a larvacide mixture; Samel T. Darling introduced a daytime tent inspection program that was simple yet highly effective. The Panama Canal did not, unfortunately, eliminate malaria, but its integrated mosquito control program set a new model for public health. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ( and Partners in Health ( are among today’s leaders in conquering malaria. How can public health be improved through large-scale efforts such as public works?

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Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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