Haath Mein Sehat is Hindi for "Health in Hands." An estimated seven million people currently live in the slums of Mumbai, India. Residents of these underserved communities suffer from a high incidence of enteric dysentery largely in part to contaminated drinking water, poor hygiene habits, and a lack of adequate sanitation. In response, the HMS team has been working since the summer of 2004 to help improve livelihoods trough health education and appropriate, low-cost water treatment methods. HMS is an interdisciplinary, international collaboration between local organizations and institutions in Mumbai and students at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Haath Mein Sehat (HMS) project began in 2004 in the community of Behrampada, a slum in the Bandra East district in Mumbai, India, as a collaborative effort between students from the University of California at Berkeley and the community’s Mahila Mandals (women’s groups). The community’s estimated 175,000 residents, living on less than 2 square kilometers of land, obtain their water mostly from public taps spaced along lanes. These water pipes run through sewers and drainage canals, leading to contamination from feces and other sources that infiltrate due to low water pressure and leaks. Further contamination is caused by unsafe storage and handling of water in the home.
The Behram Mahila Mandals identified poor water quality as one of the biggest drivers of enteric disease. Recognizing the need for a comprehensive approach, Berkeley students have worked for the dual objectives of hygiene education and development and promotion of economically viable point-of-use treatment methods. The HMS team is now comprised of student volunteers from UC Berkeley as well as colleges across Mumbai, including Somaiya, SIES, and others. The project has evolved into a comprehensive intervention that includes low-cost water treatment technologies and complimentary hygiene education programs. Now in its third year of operation, HMS is expanding its outreach in collaboration with the NGO SAHAS to another slum, Panchsheel Nagar, located in Sion, Mumbai, and exploring how the program can be adapted to Hubli, a city in the state of Karnataka, with support from the Deshpande Foundation.Workshops and public events such as street plays and market stalls hosted by HMS volunteers provide education and enable the community to make well-informed decisions about unsafe water and prevention of disease. Before beginning work in a community, students conduct needs assessments to determine residents’ general understanding of diarrheal illness, impressions about their water, and treatment methods in use. In addition, HMS teams are researching social marketing, distribution, and financing methods, and identifying point of use treatment systems that are appropriate for the environmental conditions and economic levels of Behram and Panchsheel Nagar residents. Students have also developed a unit for water treatment that consists of a water filter to remove large pathogens, chlorine to kill bacteria and viruses, and a safe storage container to prevent recontamination. Additional teams of volunteers conduct water quality testing and epidemiological surveys of households. In January 2007, the project was filmed by the Discovery Channel for inclusion in a series on technology in India.
While each of these communities varies significantly in their demographic, infrastructure, and environmental conditions, HMS is using the processes of creating and implementing its programs to develop a model for scaling interventions in urban slums in India.
Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.