Once that information collection is completed, the team will begin working on the educational component of the project that will involve about 300 students in 12 public elementary schools. Developing the curriculum will involve a close collaboration among researchers, teachers and parents who will help design an intervention process, and implementation of the program, which Khan said will ultimately help sustain the efforts.
"Many educational interventions in low- and middle-income countries tend to be top-down and do not take into account cultural adaptability and affordability of the community," said Khan, who will also collaborate with Anne Pyburn, provost professor in IU's Department of Anthropology, to develop a plan. "We are looking to establish a participatory, educational intervention. The plan for exactly how the intervention will take place will come from the parents and the teachers, who so far seem excited about addressing this issue."
Researchers also will look into communicating information on antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which has made it more challenging to prevent transmission of diarrhea and respiratory infections and is considered one of the world's most pressing public health problems by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although India has been identified as the origin of some of the most threatening sources of antibiotic resistance -- due, in part, to the easy access to antibiotics on the streets -- education on antibiotic-resistant bacteria has been poor in the educational system, according to Karen Bush, professor of practice in biotechnology at IU and collaborator on the project.
While the Indian government has worked to address this issue in part by limiting access to antibiotics, Bush said it is too little, too late.
"Unfortunately, once the genes responsible for antibiotic resistance get into the water supply or other environmental sources, it is almost impossible to eliminate them completely," Bush said. "Thus, effective hand washing is critical to minimize the exposure to bacteria carrying antibiotic-resistance genes."
As part of the project, researchers will study the microbial contamination of children's hands and drinking water at both school and home and characterize the antibiotic resistance in these samples. The risk factor of those antibiotic-resistant bacteria will also be communicated to teachers and children as part of the educational process.
After one year, the team will evaluate what improvements have been made through student class absences and hand bacterial counts. The team also will host symposia at the IU India Gateway focused on environmental and public health issues in the area.
Improving hygiene habits and providing access to safe water not only has the potential to improve the lives of millions of children living in poverty, researchers said; it will also improve their education by reducing school absences due to illness.
Khan said that the ultimate goal is to provide information on the effectiveness of safe water and good hygiene practices in schools to government agencies and international organizations that work with underprivileged populations to then establish policies and strategies for sustainable programs in South Asia. He is thankful for the grant award and the use of the IU India Gateway office and the staff at the office who have provided invaluable support.
"For me, this project is a starting point for establishing an international team of collaborators for projects in South Asia," Khan said. "This project is just the beginning and will hopefully help us develop larger projects that will address important environmental and public health issues affecting millions of people in developing countries."
Written by April Toler. This article originally appeared in IU News.