While the work of US Water and Public Health Expert Rita Colwell 'has established the basis for environmental and infectious disease risk assessment used around the world,' she has also focused on preventing the spread of cholera. She has held multiple positions during her decades of work in water-related fields, spanning advisory roles in the US government, non-profit science and policy organisations and private foundations.
The 76-year-old professor at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered that cholera-causing bacteria can go dormant, later reverting to an infectious state. 'These findings counteracted the conventional wisdom held that cholera (could only enter) the environment ... due to release of sewage,' the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said in a statement. 'As a result of her work, scientists are now able to link changes in the natural environment to the spread of disease.'
Cholera is a waterborne disease that affects between three and five million people worldwide each year according to SIWI, and causes an estimated 120,000 deaths. Colwell was among the first to link the spread of diseases, including cholera, to climate change, SIWI scientific director Per-Arne Malmqvist told reporters at an announcement in Stockholm. Colwell also led experiments on the impact of El Niño on human health and aquatic environmental stability in the United States.
Expanding beyond research initiatives, Colwell helped spread community-based water safety education and practical, inexpensive technologies for better drinking water and sanitation in Latin and South America in the 90s.
Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf will present the award and $150,000 prize sum to Colwell on 9 September in Stockholm. Since 1991, the prize has been awarded annually to people, institutes or organisations working to preserve water resources, improve public health and protect the ecosystem.