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Effect of water quality, sanitation, hand washing, and nutritional interventions on child development in rural Bangladesh (WASH Benefits Bangladesh): a cluster-randomised controlled trial.

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Poor nutrition and hygiene make children vulnerable to delays in growth and development. We aimed to assess the effects of water quality, sanitation, handwashing, and nutritional interventions individually or in combination on the cognitive, motor, and language development of children in rural Bangladesh.


In this cluster-randomised controlled trial, we enrolled pregnant women in their first or second trimester from rural villages of Gazipur, Kishoreganj, Mymensingh, and Tangail districts of central Bangladesh, with an average of eight women per cluster. Groups of eight geographically adjacent clusters were block-randomised, using a random number generator, into six intervention groups (all of which received weekly visits from a community health promoter for the first 6 months and every 2 weeks for the next 18 months) and a double-sized control group (no intervention or health promoter visit). The six intervention groups were: chlorinated drinking water; improved sanitation; handwashing with soap; combined water, sanitation, and handwashing; improved nutrition through counselling and provision of lipid-based nutrient supplements; and combined water, sanitation, handwashing, and nutrition. Here, we report on the prespecified secondary child development outcomes: gross motor milestone achievement assessed with the WHO module at age 1 year, and communication, gross motor, personal social, and combined scores measured by the Extended Ages and Stages Questionnaire (EASQ) at age 2 years. Masking of participants was not possible. Analyses were by intention to treat. This trial is registered with, number NCT01590095.


Between May 31, 2012, and July 7, 2013, 5551 pregnant women residing in 720 clusters were enrolled. Index children of 928 (17%) enrolled women were lost to follow-up in year 1 and an additional 201 (3%) in year 2. 4757 children were assessed at 1 year and 4403 at 2 years. At year 1, compared with the control group, the combined water, sanitation, handwashing, and nutrition group had a higher rate of attaining the standing alone milestone (hazard ratio 1·19, 95% CI 1·01-1 ·40), and the nutrition group had a higher rate of attaining the walking alone milestone (1·32, 95% CI 1·07-1·62). The combined water, sanitation, handwashing, and nutrition group had a higher rate of attaining the walking alone milestone than those in the water, sanitation, and handwashing group (1·29, 1·01-1·65). At 2 years, we noted beneficial effects in the combined EASQ score in all intervention groups, with effect sizes smallest in the water treatment group (difference 0·15, 95% CI 0·04 to 0·26 vs control) and largest in the combined water, sanitation, handwashing, and nutrition treatment group (0·37, 0·27-0·46).


Improvements in water quality, handwashing, sanitation, or nutrition supported by intensive interpersonal communication, when delivered either individually or in combination, contributed to improvements in child development. A crucial next step is to establish whether similar effects can be achieved with reduced intensity of promoter contacts that could be supported in large-scale interventions.


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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