Medicine / Infectious Disease
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Models 4 Water and The Water Project

November 23, 2011

Matthew Vasey, MD1

1Department of Emergency Medicine, Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center - Weill Cornell Medical College

Among others, there is a small country in Africa unable to provide its population with one of the human body's most fundamental requirement, water. The CIA World Factbook calculates the average age of Burkina Faso's population to be 17 years. Health effects related to transmission of potentially deadly waterborne diseases is common place. Notable diseases, Dysentery, Cholera and Shistosomiasis are almost entirely preventable through development of a clean drinking water infrastructure.

While unpleasant to contemplate in a developed society, simply put, it's the drinking of water contaminated by various bacterial and parasitic pathogens from mammalian waste or from direct contact with unwanted organisms that leads to disease. The pathogens that cause Dysentery and Cholera set off a chain of events with a common theme of profound diarrhea and vomiting. The outcome can become fatal if body water lost is not adequately replaced either by mouth or intravenously. Antibiotic medicines help to shorten duration of the disease state with fluid rehydration ultimately resolving the illness.

Here is a link to an album documenting the Cholera outbreak in Haiti after the recent earthquake. The post earthquake waterborne diseases in Haiti are essentially the same, but the publicity for water related help is not.
(Click to View Photos)

Shistosomiasis comes from direct contact with the particular parasite found in open bodies of water. The parasite may burrow into the skin where it begins to mature ultimately migrating to its final body location. Depending on the species of parasite, organs such as the liver, bladder, lung, intestines or others could be the desired area for maturation with organ specific symptoms. While Shistosomiasis can be successfully treated with antimicrobials, it comes back to the need for a clean drinking water infrastructure.

Aside from waterborne disease, there are detrimental effects that result directly from not drinking enough water. Seizures may result from abnormal amounts of body electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. Potential cell death from lack of delivered oxygen to tissue since water is an important component of blood. Without enough water, kidneys fail to make urine. Coma and death can result from inadequate filtration of potentially toxic substances.

Heide Lindgren and Georgie Badiel have tapped into attention and influence from their careers as fashion models in the industry to raise money through their Models 4 Water Organization to benefit The Water Project that will directly improve the clean drinking water supply in Burkina Faso.

For more information, check out:
Models 4 Water -
The Water Project -


Chen L. Infectious diarrheal diseases and dehydration. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosens Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 171.

CIA World Factbook

National Institute of Health

Pan American Health Organization PAHO on Social Media