Water contamination and the lack of safe drinking water. Infant deaths and the taboo surrounding the use of sanitary pads. Innovators talk us through the idea and journey behind developing products that aim to tackle these long-standing problems in the country.
Open defecation is a massive problem in India. As per a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef, 597 million people practice open defecation in the country. What follows is microbial contamination of water. As a result, approximately 1.5 million children die of diarrhoea every year. Additionally, water-borne diseases affect around 37 million people every year.
The only way to make sure water is safe for consumption is by testing its quality and, if found dubious, passing it through some appropriate purification steps. Microbial testing is conducted with the help of micro-organisms like E.coli in an incubator at 37-38 degrees Celsius. Two vital components needed for this process are slides that contain nutrients for microbes to grow in and an incubator that can maintain the temperature at 37-38 degrees Celsius. But electric incubators remain out of reach for many villages.
Enter MicroButor, an electricity-free, handy and low-cost incubator, developed by 30-year-old Ganesh Bhere, who pursued his masters in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai; 27-year-old Ashwin Pawade, who is a masters in technology and development from IIT Bombay; and 22-year-old Ashwini Gaikwad, a final-year student of chemical engineering at Jondhale College, Mumbai. The three met in 2013 while working on a project for Science for Society, a research and development organisation.
MicroButor, one of the winners of the 2016 Young Innovators Challenge Award by tech firm 3M India and the Confederation of Indian Industries, uses a battery that doesn’t need to be charged electrically. All you need to do to charge it is dip it in hot water—easily available in rural areas—for 15 minutes. Once charged, it releases heat in a controlled manner over a period of 48 hours. Maintenance-free and cost-effective, MicroButor is easy to use and operate. “Traditional incubators need electricity, incur capital-intensive costs of R0.5-R1.25 lakh and are not portable. Hence, field-level testing is not possible. However, MicroButor can be used to incubate the slides by maintaining a temperature of 37-38 degrees Celsius for a period of 48 hours. It can be used in thousands of gram panchayats across India,” says Bhere.
It was while doing research on water filtration systems for their project for Science for Society that Bhere, Pawade and Gaikwad—who all come from a rural background—realised that a lack of appropriate technology in rural areas in the country is a major impediment in testing water quality. They spoke to people at the ground level and identified the various constraints. After six months, MicroButor was born. Even though it’s still in the prototype stage, it has given comparable results to electrical incubators under extensive laboratory testing. Bhere says they plan to launch MicroButor in the commercial market soon. “Access to safe water is a right of every human being. Awareness among people is increasing, so we see tremendous potential for the product. We are now working on a market strategy,” he adds.