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Influence of community-level sanitation coverage and population density on environmental fecal contamination and child health in a longitudinal cohort in rural Bangladesh.



Household-level sanitation interventions have had limited effects on child health or environmental contamination, potentially due to low community coverage. Higher community-level coverage with safely managed sanitation can reduce opportunities for disease transmission.


We estimated associations between community sanitation coverage, environmental fecal contamination, and child health among 360 compounds in the control arm of the WASH Benefits trial in rural Bangladesh (NCT01590095). In each compound, we enumerated E. coli in environmental samples and recorded the 7-day prevalence of caregiver-reported diarrheal disease and acute respiratory infections (ARI) in children under five. We observed indicators of latrine access and quality among all neighboring compounds within 100 m of study compounds. We defined community coverage as the proportion of neighboring compounds with (1) at least one latrine, and (2) exclusively hygienic latrines (improved facility observed to safely contain feces), within both 50 m and 100 m of study compounds. We assessed effect modification by population density and season.


Adjusted for confounders, study compounds surrounded by 100% coverage of at least one latrine per compound within 50 m had slightly lower log10E. coli counts in stored water (Δlog = -0.13, 95% CI -0.26, -0.01), child hand rinses (Δlog = -0.13, 95% CI -0.24, -0.02), and caregiver hand rinses (Δlog = -0.16, 95% CI -0.29, -0.03) and marginally lower prevalence of diarrheal disease (prevalence ratio [PR] = 0.82, 95% CI 0.64, 1.04) and ARI (PR = 0.84, 95% CI 0.69, 1.03) compared to compounds surrounded by <100% coverage. Effects were similar but less pronounced at 100 m. At higher population densities, community latrine coverage was associated with larger reductions in E. coli on child and caregiver hands and prevalence of diarrheal disease. Coverage with exclusively hygienic latrines was not associated with any outcome.


Higher community sanitation coverage was associated with reduced fecal contamination and improved child health, with stronger effects at highly local scales (50m) and at high population densities. Our findings indicate that the relationship between community sanitation coverage, environmental contamination, and child health varies by definition of coverage, distance, and population density. This work highlights significant uncertainty around how to best measure sanitation coverage and the expected health effects of increasing sanitation coverage using a specific metric. Better understanding of community-level sanitation access is needed to inform policy for implementing sanitation systems that effectively protect community health.

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