last update:6/15/08

Archive: 5/16/08

A latrine constructed by Medo and volunteers

Waterlab Update by Amanda Gabster

Upon arrival to Soloy in early May 2008, the water lab team, which consisted of Laura Brookbanks, Ross Duncan, Jessica Nicoll, and myself, Amanda Gabster set up the new equipment for the first water quality lab in the Ngobe Bugle Comarca. The equipment consists of equipment from the Idexx company ( and the system we use is Coliert. This lab tests for total coliforms and E.coli. According to public health officials, these two bacteria are accurate tests for contamination. If fecal coliforms are present in the area, it is very likely that other bacterial pathogens and parasites are also present.
Upon visiting each community, the team, accompanied by Adan and Nicolas (the Sanitarian), met with all the community members.  Our goal was to explain to the community as a whole what the point of the laboratory was and what kind of benefits this lab may bring to them.  The meeting concluded with a series of questions directed at the community as a whole to get an idea of how the houses were set up in the area, the latrines being used and to see if their community was interested in testing their water for contamination.  All the communities responded positively to our presence in the area and each of the 10 communities decided to participate in the monthly testing. Most had concerns and complaints as to the quality and quantity of the currently available water. All the communities also had concerns about the levels of diarrhea and vomiting that children and the elderly have.

A 100 mL sample was then taken of the water source the majority of the community members used, either a stagnant surface spring, a flowing surface spring, or an aqueduct.

Instead of using just the presence/absence test for total and fecal coliforms, we decided to use a quantitative test. The quantitative test uses quanti-trays, a tray that has a series of large and small wells. After incubating the trays for 24 hours, the positive wells will turn yellow in the presence of total coliforms and under blacklight, they will turn florescent with the presence of E.coli. According to the number of positive wells that each tray has for both total and fecal coliforms, a Most Probable Number Table is used to find a MPN number, which corresponds to a level of contamination.
The science behind the system is relatively simple: the carbon source in the reagent comes from ONPG and MUG, which are metabolized by the coliform enzyme, β -galactosidase and the E. coli enzyme β-glucuronidase, respectively.
Coliforms use β -galactosidase to metabolize ONPG as they grow in the Coliert system this changes the color from colorless to yellow. E. coliuse β -glucuronidase to metabolize MUG and thereby creating the florescence that is seen in a positive test. There is no growth and interference from other bacteria because most  non-coliforms do not have these enzymes. The few non-coliforms that do have these enzymes are selectively suppressed by Colilert's specifically formulated matrix.
False positives are avoided in this system because the non-target organisms are suppressed.  The downfall of traditional media is that it provides an environment in which both target and non-target organisms can proliferate; with growth of non-targets, false positives occur.   Also, in traditional media, the growth of non-target organisms can actually suppress the growth of target organisms, and a false negative can occur.  Coliert therefore is the most accurate system for detection of contamination in water by total coliforms and E. coli.
According to the WHO, the MPN number should be <1 for drinking water. In our preliminary testing in 14 different communities, we found 12 to have levels above <1 and 6 communities were 100 MPN. 4 of the communities had levels so high, that dilutions are needed in order to find a more exact Most Probable Number.

I have been in continuous contact with both the Panamanian Ministry of Health and UNICEF Panama.  My hope is, with the help of national and international organizations, to find a solution to the problem of decreasing quality and quantity of water in the Soloy area.  The solution will not be simple or cheap. Deforestation has been increasing over the past years, thereby negatively affecting the amount of water in the watershed. Water is also becoming scarcer with the increasing population.  With the population boom, water quality is also diminishing with a lack of proper sanitation control (latrines).  An increase of aqueduct systems into the area doesn’t guarantee better water for the communities, either. Without filters, aqueduct water remains highly turbid and chlorination does not work.

The construction of this lab is only baby steps to better the water quality in the Soloy region, however hopefully the quantitative data will be able to raise awareness. The future of this water quality lab is not to only continue surveillance of the water in the area, but also to find a way to better both the water quality and quantity that arrives in the communities in the Soloy area.

 LATRINE UPDATE by Amanda Gabster

With the most recent questionnaires in each of the communities, we found that the biggest concerns for the community members are lack of sanitation control and a lack of a sufficient quantity of water. Although the latrine project has built 39 latrines to date in different communities around Soloy, there are still thousands to be built.   
With the newest arrival of funds from Concern America, we will be able to build approximately 20 more latrines to help with sanitation control.
 In order to bring safe drinking water, free of fecal coliforms and parasites to the Ngobe population, the battle will be long and uphill. However with perseverence of this Medo founded group and other organizations including the Ministry of Health and the United Nations, the goal is achievable.



Thanks to all our wonderful volunteers!

Archive: 5/16/08