A portable lifetime-affordable water filter solution compliant with international standards, capable of purifying 400,000 liters upto 99%, costs less than Rs.4,000 and fits directly onto any tap.
After suffering from chronic diarrhea for four months and shedding 40kgs of body weight, Shayan Sohail fortunately survived and eventually recovered. Sohail says he survived the deadly disease only for two reasons. One, he was quite obese and even after losing 40kgs his weight was still 70kgs. Secondly, he could afford expensive medical treatment which most Pakistanis cannot think of.
Unfortunately, every year more than a million people die in Pakistan due to chronic diarrhea. Diarrheal diseases also remain the leading causes of childhood deaths that are otherwise preventable with primary healthcare measures.
After recovering, Sohail realized that the cause of his illness was because he made the mistake of drinking unhygienic tap water at UET Lahore, where he was studying. He learned that a fellow student, Usama Tanveer, was also suffering from the same illness at the time he was. And that Tanveer also survived because he came from a similar demographic and segment of society as himself.
Making it Count
So both formerly-obese and recently-recovered aspiring engineers sat together and planned to improve the quality of drinking water on campus. Initially they campaigned for installation of water filters where there weren’t, and got the old ones replaced.
But they soon realized filters weren’t a long-term, feasible solution. “It turned out to be a very expensive exercise because the membrane in the filter needed replaced frequently,” said Sohail. That and the lag and sluggish movement because of the bureaucratic red tape.
“It often takes six months to get an approval to change a membrane because of the delay in fund issuance. This is why most government organizations consider it a lost cause and don’t pursue change vehemently with their respective finance departments,” he explained.
That was when Sohail and Tanveer formed a company named Pak Vitae and proposed a more realistic solution that promised to be both cost-effective and long-term.
An important factor they took into consideration was the provision of electricity in the country, or the lack thereof. “The water filters currently being used require electricity to function properly; however, we all know that electricity is a luxury for many in this part of the world. We knew we had to build a filter which could function without it,” Sohail said.
And eventually they succeeded in developing portable lifetime-affordable water filters fully compliant with international standards, which could filter nearly 400,000 liters of water without the need of any power. It costs only Rs3,000-4,000 and can be easily installed on any tap and can purify water to 99.99%.
“It not only filters contaminants but also protects people from harmful viruses of various diseases including polio,” said Sohail.
Sohail said that the filtering device is first of its kind in Asia, as this design was initially conceived by engineers in Switzerland. “The Swiss version is 10 times more expensive than ours, but the water purification quality is exactly the same,” he said, adding that Pak Vitae has registered the patent on their innovation in Pakistan.
“We have got the water tested from laboratories not just in Pakistan, but in Europe and United States as well, and they have all approved the filter’s performance,” Sohail said.
Switching on the Revenue Stream
Following their invention, Sohail and Tanveer received four months of business training at National Incubation Center in Lahore.
Initially they adopted a business-to-business approach to market their product, with a specific focus on government organisations and educational institutes. “Military is our biggest client so far, and we have almost roped in Punjab government for a prolonged partnership,” Sohail said.
Pak Vitae has also collaborated with non-government organisations to provide water filters to people living in slums located in the suburbs of Lahore.
Pak Vitae shifted their focus towards targeting consumers directly, as they started to take orders for their filters through the company’s Facebook page. Currently they are pursuing cash-on-delivery method to sell their filters to household consumers; however, they intend to formally launch their product in retail market soon.
“Managing finances for this has not been an easy task as we financed all this through our own pockets. It’s only recently that we received a multimillion dollar financing after which we are now in the process to launch our product in retail markets across the country,” Sohail said.
The Trickle-Down Effect
More than 83% of water in 14 out of 29 districts in Sindh has been termed unsafe for drinking, according to a report submitted to the Supreme Court in 2017.
Most of the water sources, especially in coastal parts of the province are saline. However, the filter developed by Pak Vitae can only process sweet water, but by the next year Pak Vitae plans on launching a purpose-built water filter with the ability to process saltwater. “We would specifically be targeting consumers of Karachi with the advanced version of our water filters,” Sohail said.