According to UNICEF, in Ghana 25% of deaths in children under 5 are caused by diarrhea. In Northern Ghana, where more than half the population gets its water from wells, ponds and streams, this percentage is even higher. These water sources often contain disease-causing microorganisms because they're too remote for centralized filtration and sanitation systems to reach.
Susan Murcott and Pure Home Water, the non-profit that she co-founded, are working on creating and distributing affordable ceramic filters in this region. The product has been well-received, but the organization is planning to go one step further: PHW is planning to build a factory to make the filters locally. Currently the organization buys filters from a factory 12 hours away. With its own local factory PHW will be able to drop the filters' cost from $16 to $10. Since the filter will still cost more than most Northern Ghanaians can afford, PHW intends to use the factory to also make profitable ceramic products, like bricks, that can subsidize the water filters.
In addition to cost reductions, PHW will gain tighter control over the design and quality of the filters and the manufacturing process. The PHW team has some MIT engineering and Sloan School of Management interns working with them to conduct product research, run consumer studies and test the unusual manufacturing process, which uses combustible materials like rice husks to create small voids that allow water to pass but trap bacteria and parasites. Murcott learned the technique for making the ceramic from the non-profit organization Potters for Peace in Nicaragua.
You can learn more about PHW's ceramic manufacturing process, product research and business plan in an article on the MIT News website.