I am on leave for 2013-2014, spending the year as a visiting fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
My research portfolio right now is mainly composed of a number of projects related to water, sanitation, and hygiene in sub-Saharan African (specifically, rural western Kenya and urban Ghana). For the past few years, I've been working with a team of researchers developing and testing a chlorine dispenser system for disinfecting water at the point of collection in poor communities where piped water in the home is not available. In our initial study, a cluster-randomized trial in 50 communities, over 60% of the households we surveyed had chlorinated drinking water on random spot-checks, compared to less than 10% in the comparison group. What's more, the chlorine dispenser system is a lot cheaper than suppling bottles of chlorine to individual households, which is a really important consideration for these subsistence farmers. Read more about the economics behind the project as featured on the Freakonomics blog in honor of World Water Day here. The original chlorine dispenser study is ongoing, but it has already led to a number of off-shoots, including one I am collaborating on in which we are investigating strategies to help communities organize themselves to pay for the costs of the chlorine refills.
The chlorine dispenser system also features prominently in another cluster-randomized trial I am a co-Investigator on - the "WASH Benefits" study - in which we are comparing the relative benefits of water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions, alone and in combination. One of the major innovations of that trial is that we will be able to track objective measures of health, such as stunting and cognitive development, as our outcome measurements, rather than relying on self-reported diarrhea which is subject to a number of biases in a non-blinded trial.
Our team's work to identify low-cost tools to facilitate safe disposal of children's feces was recognized with a Grand Challenges Explorations Award from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We developed the Latrine Training Mat - a plastic or wooden platform that can be placed over the hole of an existing latrine. The Latrine Training Mat addresses the main challenges to young children's use of latrines that we heard most often in our formative research for the WASH Benefits project: adult-sized holes in latrines are hard for children to squat over, parents and children alike are afraid that the child might fall in, and adults who use the same latrine don't want kids in there making a mess on the floor. The Latrine Training Mat gives children a secure and smaller hole over which to squat and gives mothers surface that is much easier to clean up than the traditional mud or log floor. Our prototypes have been very well received in our pilots, but we have many interesting and tough issues to tackle (How cheaply can they be produced and would anyone be willing to buy one at that price? Is the real innovation the thing or the concept - can villagers come up with their own materials to make a mat once they've been introduced to the concept? A couple of the mothers participating in our pilots actually value the mat so highly that they are reluctant to store it in the latrine and instead want to keep it in the house - what can be done to prevent this from pozing a new health hazard even as the mat has alleviated the problem of children openly defecating in the yard?).
My other major project for the next few years is the "SaniPath" Project - an assessment of fecal exposure pathways in Accra, Ghana - which I am working on with my colleagues Dr. Christine Moe. We spent over a year collecting extensive data on fecal contamination and behaviors that lead residents come in contact with it. The combination of environmental microbiology and behavioral research considered a wide range of potential exposure routes in both the public and private domains, including drainage (or lack thereof), food safety, sanitation infrastructure, and domestic practices.
In my prior life as a graduate student I also did research on the factors that motivate people to make charitable contributions and influence their decisions of which charities to give to. Although I don't currently have an active project on that topic, it's actually a pretty relevant question for those of us working on global health issues...
A. Zwane, J. Zinman, E. Van Dusen, W. Pariente, C. Null, E. Miguel, M. Kremer, D. Karlan, R. Hornbeck, X. Gine, E. Duflo, F. Devoto, B. Crepon, A. Banerjee
Being surveyed can change later behavior and related parameter estimates
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108: 1821-1826, 2011.