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Bill Gates wants to reinvent the toilet for the Third World

July 20, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • New toilet designs--cheap and sustainable for developing countries--are being being funded by $41.5 million in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates is shown here at a Geneva press conference in May.
New toilet designs--cheap and sustainable for developing countries--are… (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty…)

Bill Gates thinks the modern-day flush toilet isn’t good enough. Most of the developing world can’t afford to use it, and poor sanitation spreads diarrheal diseases.

So the Gates Foundation is challenging universities to build a better toilet—latrines that are hygienic, generate energy and don’t require running water or a septic system. The foundation is giving $41.5 million toward that end, and proposals include toilets powered by heat, microwaves or solar panels.

A sustainable toilet could save lives in developing countries. Poor sanitation leads to many diarrhea-related deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization:

“Worldwide around 1.1 billion people lack access to improved water sources and 2.4 billion have no basic sanitation. Diarrhea due to infection is widespread throughout the developing world. In Southeast Asia and Africa, diarrhea is responsible for as much as 8.5% and 7.7% of all deaths, respectively.” 

Some 2.2 million people, mostly children, die each year from diarrhea, according to the Word Health Organization. Bacterial infections, such as those caused by E. coli, as well as viral and parasitic infections account for many of the cases.

Contaminated water can spread these organisms when used for bathing, drinking or cooking, and can penetrate the food supply when used for irrigation.

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