Rollins researchers receive $3.7M to study World Bank's urban water supply improvement project in Mozambique

June 12, 2018

Researchers at the Emory Rollins School of Public Health have received a $3.7 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the impact of a five-year, $140 million World Bank-funded water improvement project in Mozambique. The grant will allow the team to assess the health impacts of this large development project, which extends and improves upon water infrastructure in four urban areas.

Led by Matthew Freeman, PhD, MPH, and Karen Levy, PhD, MPH, the researchers will test the ways in which improvements to the water supply affect children's gut function and impact general pathogen infection. Collaborators include the World Bank, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Nevada Reno and Mozambican water and health agencies.

Through the R01 grant, the researchers will explore the impact of the water system improvements on child health, specifically focusing on the microbial gut conditions.

"We want to know which pathogens kids are getting infected with, whether there are problems with gut function which could be identified as environmental enteric dysfunction, and if it changes their gut microbiome [healthy balance of bacteria]," says Levy. "We know that the gut microbiome is influenced by many environmental factors, but nobody has yet studied the impact of water supply on the developing gut microbiome of children."

The researchers will study how improvements to the water supply in low-income urban areas affect children with acute gastrointestinal conditions (issues like diarrhea and enteric pathogen prevalence) as well as those with chronic gastrointestinal conditions.

"Evidence shows that repeated exposures to diarrheal pathogens change the microbiome of a person's gut," says Freeman. "These changes are potentially irreversible and could change a person's life course—in terms of nutritional uptake, and obesity."

Levy notes that implications of this go far beyond acute diarrhea in populations. "If early gut exposure affects nutrition absorption and child growth, that can impact cognitive development, which can in turn impact whole cultures, and the economic growth of countries."