Vestergaard To Reach 125,000 Kenyan Children with "Follow the Liters" Program

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Western Kenya is a huge agricultural region, with equatorial temperatures and ample rain. Sugar and tea are both grown commercially, along with corn, sorghum and millet. Many fruits and vegetables are also grown and sold  in market stalls along the roadside and in town The two rainy seasons are a boon to farmers, to be sure, but they come with a price. This area has the highest incidence of malaria in Kenya with over 30% of children under 5 testing positive.

That's what first attracted Vestergaard, the world's largest supplier of long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets to the region. Once here, they discovered an alarmingly high incidence of waterborne diseases as well. Working in concert with the Carter Center, they used their their textile processing knowledge to develop a cloth filter in 1994, followed by the LifeStraw Guinea Worm pipe filter in 1999, which has helped to nearly eradicate dracunculiasis, or Guinea Worm disease in Africa. Building on this success, they developed the LifeStraw personal filter in 2005. This revolutionary device could be used like a drinking straw to allow safe drinking directly from biologically contaminated rivers and streams. The technology received the Saatchi and Saatchi Award for "World Changing Ideas." Going further, they found a way to give away nearly 880,000 of these to households. That's enough to serve 4.5 million people in western Kenya at no charge to them.

How did they do that? Because, before the filters arrived, people had to boil water in order to drink it safely. By eliminating this need, Vestergaard was able to qualify for carbon credits. Sales of the credits underwrite the Carbon for Water program. All distributions are rigorously tracked and all filters are serviced by the company which maintains a full time staff in the area. This has gone a long way towards reducing the incidence of water-borne diseases, but there is still a gap which exposes some of the country's most vulnerable: school children.

That is why the company has just announced the Follow the Liters program, which will deliver 1642 Lifestraw Community filters to 301 schools in the region. These larger filters, that can serve anywhere between 75 and 100 children per day will also be provided at no charge, courtesy of another innovative business model. The company has pledged, as part of their "humanitarian entrepreneurship," that each LifeStraw personal filter sold to an outdoor enthusiast in the US, Europe and Asia, will help fund the program, which has grown to reach 125,000 children.

Absenteeism due to water-borne illnesses has been a major problem in this area and it looks like Vestergaard is on their way to another public health success story with this one.

Photo credit: RP Siegel