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Health & Wellness
Providing Access to Clean, Safe Drinking Water in the Central African Republic

By Abraham Wright, Senior Project Engineer, Product Development, DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company

Water is essential to daily life: we use it to wash our dishes and clothes, to take a shower, and to drink. For me, I’m lucky to have access to clean water every day, which is pumped directly into my home, so all I have to do is turn on the tap. For many people living in the Central African Republic, water is gathered in springs, rivers, ponds and even puddles, and carried in buckets for miles, and is not sanitary.

About six years ago, I became involved in a non-profit organization, Integrated Community Development International, which attempts to change this situation by drilling wells in the Central African Republic with the aim of providing pure, safe drinking water. These wells use a hand pump to bring the water out of the ground.  Unfortunately, due to low water tables in central Africa, some of the wells are 300 to 400 feet deep and the hand pumps that are commercially available are not sufficient.

In response to this problem, I engaged a group of engineers that I work with at DePuy Orthopaedics, part of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies, along with engineers in Ohio and Kansas, to volunteer their time to develop a pump that could provide access to clean water when the water is too deep for standard hand pumps. We developed a progressive cavity pump (PCP) that is potentially able to lift water from depths up to 500 feet.

This project began more than a year ago and took hundreds of hours of our personal time in order to develop a properly working pump that could best serve the people of central Africa. This summer, my colleagues, Mark Heldreth and Greg Bixler, traveled to Africa to evaluate the current pumps and test the new replacement pumps at two sites: an under-producing pump at an orphanage in Berberati and an inoperable pump in the village of Yamando.  Here's a link to more information and video of the trip.

“The goal of our summer trip was to remove the old pumps and install the new ones to see if they worked or if the designs needed to be modified,” said Mark Heldreth. “We learned the pump designs needed further adjustments.  This month we are excited to get the pump working in the village of Yamando.”

The project isn’t over now that the team has returned to the United States. We continue to obtain long-term feedback and test data from Africa, which will assist us as we start the second phase of this project, which includes redesigning the pump based on what we learn to make it most effective and affordable for mass production. We plan to return as soon as summer 2012 with the new version of the pump to install in several villages in the Central African Republic.

It’s easy to take the little things for granted like being able to quench my thirst with a sip of water without leaving the comforts of my home. Knowing that the fruits of our labor have provided water to one village and will provide water to many villages in the near future has been a great experience for me and the rest of the team.