Millions of school-aged children with and without disabilities and who live in low- and middle-income countries around the world grapple with this lack of access to water, sanitation, and hygiene — or WaSH — facilities every day. In fact, it is one of the biggest reasons why they do not receive a formal education.
Over one week in late May, teams of University at Buffalo students representing a range of fields — public health, architecture and planning, engineering, chemistry, computer science, pharmacy and management — put their heads together to develop actionable ideas to help solve this problem in two countries with critical need: India and Uganda.
“For the 100 million children and teens with disabilities worldwide, the lack of adequate sanitation is a primary barrier to school attendance,” said Mr. Radhakrishna Dasari, a UB student whose team won the top prize in the Global Innovation Challenge, a hackathon-style event organized by UB’s Community for Global Health Equity. “The challenge was all about prioritizing inclusive WaSH facilities to promote the education of all children, regardless of gender, age or ability,” he said.
“We collaborated with WaterAid, a leading international organization that works to increase WaSH access in dozens of low- and middle-income countries, to issue the challenge to our students,” explained Dr. Pavani Ram, director of the Community for Global Health Equity and associate professor in the department of epidemiology and environmental health in UB the School of Public Health and Health Professions.
At the start of the Global Innovation Challenge, students heard from three experts-in-residence who are part of organizations working on improving WaSH facilities for children and or providing services for children with disabilities in India and Uganda.
“Our multidisciplinary teams of innovators, ranging from undergraduate students to postdoctoral fellows, were so moved by the personal stories shared by our three experts and learned tremendously from the depth of knowledge they brought to the challenge,” said Dr. Ram.
The top prizes, both of which honor innovation challenge donors, went to two teams, one of which brought its complementary multidisciplinary skills to bear on the tremendous problem at hand, and the other which stretched well beyond the fields of study of its members:
Faculty affiliated with the Community for Global Health Equity will work with members of both teams to refine their ideas further, locate partner organizations in low-income settings and test their innovations.