by Maryalice Yakutchik
There’s water everywhere in Bangladesh where houses commonly are built on excavated mounds of earth and consequently surrounded by ditches and ponds. As a result, 17,000 kids drown here annually (46 every day) making it a leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 4.
The obvious solution—erecting barriers around the water—simply isn’t feasible. But perhaps the Safety Turtle is.
Marketed to swimming pool owners in the U.S. and Canada to protect pets and children, the Safety Turtle is a personal immersion alarm with a wireless base unit that blares a warning when the device (shaped like a small plastic turtle) hits water. The turtle can be affixed easily to a toddler’s wrist, says Adnan Ali Hyder, MD, PhD ’98, MPH ’93, an associate professor in International Health who directs the International Injury Research Unit.
He and Alain Labrique, PhD ’07, MHS ’99, MS, assistant professor in International Health, are pilot testing the device in the field—soggy as it is—to find out if it will work in a monsoon climate as well as be culturally appropriate and socially acceptable. The research is supported by a JHSPH Faculty Innovation Award to Labrique, who has worked in rural Bangladesh for more than a decade.
Although the $150 kit is prohibitively priced for use by most Bangladeshis, the researchers think one solution might be to divvy up the cost between a half dozen families living together in a community; they could share a base unit connected to a dozen or more turtle devices, each of which would cost relatively little. “We’re targeting this as a supervision aid for parents of toddlers,” Hyder says. “If they are busy working and cooking and an alarm goes off, it will alert an entire community to look for the children and see who’s in the water.”
Alain Labrique shows off a trove of low-cost technological treasures that support research from Kenya to Bangladesh.
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