Sanitary risk observation

Visiting Well

Given how difficult it is to test drinking-water for contamination in rural sub-Saharan Africa, there is a need for simple approaches to managing the safety of rural water supplies such as wells and springs. For some time, an approach known as sanitary risk inspection has been used to make structured observations about possible contamination hazards at or close to a water source. The idea is that once a hazard has been identified, steps can then be taken to tackle the hazard, for example by fencing off a source from animals or adding a soakaway for draining excess water.

The World Health Organization has published example checklists of such hazards, adapted to particular water source types. Since these checklists were first published, knowledge of how zoonotic diseases may pass from animals to humans has advanced through the development of a ‘one health’ movement. This ‘one health’ approach aims to recognise the way that human health is inter-connected with animal health. Drawing particularly on the knowledge of our KEMRI team members who are part of the ‘one health’ movement and sanitary risk inspection experience at VIRED International, we aim to review and revise the observations about animal-related hazards on these checklists. By comparing water quality test results against the revised and original versions of these observation checklists, we also plan to evaluate these changes.

One other big issue is how far different observers can consistently use sanitary risk inspection in practice. In much the same way as healthcare professionals consistently need to identify the signs of a dehydrated child so they can provide treatment, so different observers visiting the same water source need to spot contamination hazards consistently, so they can be tackled.

We have explored this issue too, as we explain in the video below. In our related paper, we have found that the most experienced observer in our team identified more contamination hazards around water sources than his colleagues. There was only moderate agreement between the observations made by different observers, with some hazards, such as those affecting rooftop catchments for rainwater harvesting, proving particularly difficult to assess consistently.

In this way, we hope to improve on existing sanitary risk inspection methods that can be used as a straightforward way of managing water safety in rural areas.

In surveying different water sources, we will also record their locations, so that we can link water quality test results back to other information we collect.