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Association between vaccine preventable diseases in children and improved sanitation following a nationwide sanitation campaign in India: an ecological analysis.



Persistent exposure to faecal pathogens due to open defecation may cause environmental enteropathy that, in turn, may lead to undernutrition and vaccine failure in under 5-year-old (u5) children. The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) programme in India, launched in 2014, aimed to construct toilets for every household nationwide and reduce open defecation. This programme, if successful, had the potential to reduce the burden of four vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs): diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and measles. We examine whether increased household toilet availability in Indian districts following SBM corresponds with a reduction in diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and measles in u5 children.


Observational, ecological study.


532 districts in 28 Indian states, from 2013 to 2016.

Primary outcome and exposure

We retrieved data on district-level change in the annual incidence (per 1000 u5 children) of four VPDs, from 2013 (pre-SBM) to 2016 (post-SBM). We obtained data on our exposure, the change in the percentage of households with toilets (per district), from three large national surveys conducted in 2013 and 2016. We used linear regression analysis, which controlled for change over time in socioeconomic factors, health system-related covariates and pre-SBM annual incidence of VPDs.


A one percentage point increase in households with toilets corresponds with 0.33 fewer measle cases per 1000 u5 children in a district (coefficient: -0.33, 95% CI -0.0641 to -0.014; p<0.05). About 12% of this association is mediated by a reduction in u5 stunting. We observe no relation of the exposure with diphtheria, pertussis or tetanus. Findings remain robust to sensitivity analyses.


Rapid improvements in ambient sanitation through increased toilet availability correspond with a reduction in the annual incidence of measles in u5 children. We encourage replication of findings and further research to identify potential pathways by which SBM may reduce measle burden in u5 children.

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