Fast Talk: Water Work

For the last 70 years, Population Services International has been using private sector distribution and marketing channels to deliver low-cost health products—such as Waterguard, a chlorine-based water-treatment solution—in developing countries worldwide.

Joyce Wanderi, 28

Brand manager of the Safe Water Program, PSI
Nairobi, Kenya

"With our Safe Water program, we are trying to reduce child mortality in Kenya. About 10% of children die before their fifth birthday, and we know that about 50% of those deaths are the result of drinking contaminated water. Waterguard is distributed all over the country, in supermarkets, kiosks called dukas, anywhere where consumers can get fast-moving goods. For the areas the private sector can't reach, we sell Waterguard to women's groups who then sell it for a profit, door to door.

There were barriers we had to overcome. We first introduced Waterguard in a 500 milliliter bottle, but that had to be phased out because it was not really accessible to the rural population who needed it the most. By 2005, we introduced the 150 milliliter bottle, which is more cost-effective and convenient because one bottle treats 1,000 liters of water. A family uses that bottle for about two months.

Initially, chemical treatment was not accepted by people. Boiling water was until recently considered the only effective way to treat water in the house. Besides TV, print, and radio ads, we had live demonstrations at clinics. This is where we found all sorts of questions about Waterguard: Is it safe for my child? What happens if I overdose? Some were worried that it tasted bad. To show them it's safe, we drink the treated water ourselves, then invite them to try.

It's working. In 2005, there were more than 900,000 households using the product. When you give things to people for free, they don't actually appreciate it. When people pay just a little, even if it's for cost-recovery or for a few cents, they actually use it and appreciate it."

Melcy Kagendo, 30

Shopkeeper
Nairobi, Kenya

"I've been using Waterguard for about four months, since it has been introduced in my shop. I use it in my house, at my mom's house, and I sell it in my kiosk. The customers buy the small ones; the customers don't like the big one. They can't afford the big one.

Waterguard is easier. Before, we'd just boil the water. Now you can make the water clean by just pouring it in the water. It doesn't matter what purpose—for cooking or drinking. No more charcoal or smoke anymore in the house. It's also better cost.

I have one son. He is 11 years and he lives with my mom. They use a borehole to get the water. Sometimes he would boil the water, sometimes not. There are amoebas in the water. There were lots of problems. He was sometimes getting sick—stomach problems. Then from the time I give him the Waterguard, I have not had any complaints."

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