Undergraduate Aubrey Selamu-Bell helps provide clean drinking water in Ghana

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Aubrey Selamu-Bell, a University of South Florida College of Public Health undergraduate student, is one of 15 USF students chosen to take part in a three-year project aiming to improve water sanitation efforts in Ghana.

The project, NSF-IRES: Water and Sanitation Research in Ghana, is an interdisciplinary project allowing graduate and undergraduate students from STEM, public health and social sciences to carry out research activities related to water sanitation challenges in West Africa.

Students involved in the research develop, test and implement technologies, such as biosand filters and decentralized sanitation systems, while also taking into consideration the social and financial factors impacting use of those sanitation systems.

Selamu-Bell shares different options for filtering and cleaning water. (Photo courtesy of Selamu-Bell)

“Clean water is a big public health issue because, as [we] all know, water is life,” said Selamu-Bell. “Without drinking water you become ill due to dehydration and the fact that many Ghanaians were drinking water that is not up to standards shows how easily they obtain water-borne diseases that were easily preventable if they just had water filtration systems.”

The USF students are working with faculty at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), as well as a local secondary school in Kumasi, Ghana.

“The locals were so wonderful and easy to work with them,” Selamu-Bell said. “They were always on our side and helping us to achieve the greatest results for our project.”

Selamu-Bell demonstrates how one filtration system works. (Photo courtesy of Selamu-Bell)

Five students each year are chosen to travel and take part in the research, and the project fully funds the travel and housing of those students during their stay abroad.

“We were able to build different prototypes for water filtration that could be used throughout the local community,” Selamu-Bell said. “The main thing we focused on for this trip was finding ways to filter water to obtain quality water for local Ghana standards. We built a biosand filter and prototypes to see which one produced the most optimum water for drinking.”

Selamu-Bell, who is originally from Ethiopia, said taking part in this hands-on effort enhanced his passion for public health.

“There are so many things to take into consideration before starting a research project and there are aspects that you have to understand, such as the culture of the country and the political and social context to understand the people you’re working with in order to achieve the greatest results,” he said.

Selamu-Bell and the students he worked with show their USF Bulls pride. (Photo courtesy of Selamu-Bell)

Selamu-Bell hopes to continue his graduate students in public health once he graduates this spring in the hopes of one day becoming an epidemiologist.

“I believe that experiencing field work and research in an international country really opens your eyes to different public health issues that are not just local in the United States,” he said. “I want to work in countries where there is a lack of health infrastructure and health systems and I want to help be part of the change that helps to prevent the spread of disease such as Ebola, in the central African republic, and personally for me, I’m from Africa, I want to go back home and contribute to the health system of the continent as a whole.”

Related media: Facebook Live interview with Selamu-Bell.

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health