Wednesday, 12 May 2021
Arsenic contamination of water sources is a public health crisis in Bangladesh. In the 1970s, the Bangladeshi government received funding to drill millions of shallow tube wells in villages to supply clean drinking water to the people. In 1993¹, it was discovered the water from these wells contained dangerously high levels of naturally occurring arsenic from the soil. In what has been called “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history” by the World Health Organisation (WHO), roughly 80 million people in Bangladesh are affected and one in ten have a high probability of developing cancerous tumours².
In 2002, SIMaid’s Arsenic Alleviation & Awareness Program (AAAP) was created to reduce suffering among impoverished communities as a result of arsenic contamination of the groundwater in Bangladesh. Motivated by the love of Christ, the project focuses on testing water quality, raising awareness, providing subsidised water filters and medical treatment for arsenic-related diseases.
Read how Arif’s* life was transformed after receiving help from the AAAP:
Sharmin* was desperate for a solution to her husband, Arif’s, mysterious health problems. Arif had a wound on his foot that caused severe pain. It prevented him from doing much of his farming work, threatening the family’s livelihood. Arif saw several doctors but no one could help.
Without any hope, Arif began to turn against his wife. Sharmin explained, “Arif began to accuse me of casting a magic spell on him." In their community, witchcraft is an accepted cause of otherwise-unexplainable health problems. She said, "I was in so much turmoil when he would say those hurtful things to me."
Still searching for an answer, Sharmin took her husband to a doctor in the city. After examining Arif’s wound and other symptoms (which included spots on his chest), the doctor said he was likely suffering from arsenicosis (arsenic poisoning). The doctor said he couldn’t do anything to help Arif get better.
Sharmin was in tears on the bus ride back to their village when she started a conversation with another passenger. The woman told Sharmin that she knew about arsenic poisoning and referred her to the AAAP office in the area.
The couple came to the AAAP office near their village. After sharing their situation, the team did a water test at the village well, confirming it contained dangerously high levels of arsenic. Arif and Sharmin purchased a subsidised arsenic removal filter, to deal with the problem at the root level.
Then Arif received a visit from the doctor partnering with the project. This doctor has been specially trained to identify and treat arsenicosis patients. Arif was prescribed medicine and an ointment which helps to alleviate some of the skin problems caused by arsenicosis. After several months of drinking arsenic-free water as well as using the ointment, Arif reports that his foot is healing and the pain is mostly gone!
Arif said, “I don’t feel much more pain and the wound has almost totally healed. This past year I bought a power tiller (a farming tool). Now I can properly carry out my farming duties. For this reason, there is now peace in my heart and also in my household.”
The scope of the arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh is enormous but the AAAP staff have the opportunity to share God’s love and care with local communities through working to improve their quality of life.
Help bring holistic transformation to communities in Bangladesh through the Arsenic Alleviation & Awareness Program! Give online here
*Names changed to protect identities anad representative image used
¹ World Health Organization, 2000
²J Biol Sci 2004;4(5):609-612
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