MICROBE LITERACY INITIATIVE
Building healthier lives through hygiene education.
Microbe Literacy Initiative is a non-profit global health organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for vulnerable communities around the world. Microbe Literacy conducts free hygiene education classes to mothers and their children in developing countries, using microscopes to introduce them to the reality and risks of invisible infectious microbes and how ways to protect against them using life-saving sanitation practices.
Why Microbe Literacy is Important
Globally, 2.5 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation and many defecate in the open air. Poor hand washing practices and limited access to sanitation facilities perpetuate the transmission of disease-causing germs.
Every year, 2 million children die of diseases that can be prevented by regular hand washing.
Pneumonia and diarrheal disease are the leading causes of death among children under 5 years old.
Microbe Literacy workshops allow mothers and their children to examine everyday materials - from spoiled food to animal waste - under a microscope. This experience unveils the living microorganisms all around them – introducing them to the reality and risks of invisible infectious microbes and ways to block them – and irreversibly expanding their concept of the natural world. All workshop participants are taught standard life-saving WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) protocol.
Our approach was the subject of a two-year study and the positive results were published in the Royal Economic Society Journal. Microbe Literacy programs were shown to be an effective catalyst for long-term life-saving behavior change, and led to major weight and height gains in mild to severely malnourished children.
Implementation of Microbe Literacy would not be possible without the help of the following organizations.
PROOF OF CONCEPT
We evaluated ML-WASH in a cluster-randomized control trial (RTC) in Pakistan during 2013-14. Participants were women enrolled in adult literacy classes (ALCs) operated by the National Commission for Human Development in southern Punjab Province. One treatment arm received ML- WASH; a second received WASH instruction alone; the third received no training. The three arms of the study included 4,068 women, as well as 2,057 other female household members interviewed for spillover effects.
Striking benefits were seen at 16 months. Compared to the no-training group, ML-WASH participants had significantly better health, better household sanitation behaviors, and increased average weight and height for children under five (.86 kilograms and 2.7 centimeters). We also found improvements in the hygiene and health of other household members in ML- WASH villages (spillover effect). In contrast, WASH alone showed weak, or insignificant, effects in all of these measures at 16 months. This iteration of Microbe Literacy was more effective in reaching conservative mothers than the RCT version.
With SEEDS India, in 2019, we conducted successful microscope workshops with marginalized communities along the Kosi River in Saharsa District, Bihar. This sets the stage for a project that ranges from health effects of ML, to disaster resilience, to ecological protection; similar projects are planned for communities on the Kosi in Nepal, and on the Indus floodplain in Pakistan.
Microbe Literacy Initiative was established in 2009 as a 501c-3 non-profit dedicated to improving children's health outcomes in South Asia.
ED HIGGINS, MSW
Co-Founder, Board Member
Drawing on a three decade career as a New York City Social Service worker, Ed conceived of Microbe Literacy as an innovative method to aid in the prevention of respiratory and diarrheal illness. Now retired from NYC social service work, Ed devotes his spare time to the implementation of Microbe Literacy and his family, including three grandchildren.
Co-Founder, Board Member
Ian brings over 20 years of experience as a financial markets investor and entrepreneur, including advising early stage companies with a focus on social and technological innovation. His early efforts helped launch Microbe Literacy in Pakistan, and he continues to help scale the platform into other regions.
CHARLES GARDNER, PhD
With 15 years experience in senior management positions at the World Health Organization, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the US Embassy in India, Charles brings invaluable technical expertise to the MLI board. At the Optimus Foundation, Charles underwrote the large-scale randomized controlled trial of Microbe Literacy that proved its efficacy.
Shibani brings over 15 years of commercial and investment experience in the global biopharmaceutical sector. She has held senior healthcare related positions in Investment Research, Consulting and Global Corporations. Shibani has also spent recent years providing pro bono consulting services to public health organizations, academic institutions and technology startups. She has an MS in Medical Microbiology from University College London/ London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK and an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
Asjad Naqvi is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for Ecological Economics, Vienna University of Economics and Business and a Post-doctoral Research Scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis since 2013. From 2011-2013 he was the Research Director at the Center for Economic Research Pakistan, a not-for-profit institute that focuses on evidence-based decision making. He received his doctorate in Economics from the New School in New York in 2012. With 10+ years of experience, Asjad's research focuses on behavioral and decision-making aspects of individuals and households, particularly in the context of health.