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Effects of water quality, sanitation, handwashing, and nutritional interventions on diarrhoea and child growth in rural Bangladesh: a cluster randomised controlled trial.

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Diarrhoea and growth faltering in early childhood are associated with subsequent adverse outcomes. We aimed to assess whether water quality, sanitation, and handwashing interventions alone or combined with nutrition interventions reduced diarrhoea or growth faltering.


The WASH Benefits Bangladesh cluster-randomised trial enrolled pregnant women from villages in rural Bangladesh and evaluated outcomes at 1-year and 2-years' follow-up. Pregnant women in geographically adjacent clusters were block-randomised to one of seven clusters: chlorinated drinking water (water); upgraded sanitation (sanitation); promotion of handwashing with soap (handwashing); combined water, sanitation, and handwashing; counselling on appropriate child nutrition plus lipid-based nutrient supplements (nutrition); combined water, sanitation, handwashing, and nutrition; and control (data collection only). Primary outcomes were caregiver-reported diarrhoea in the past 7 days among children who were in utero or younger than 3 years at enrolment and length-for-age Z score among children born to enrolled pregnant women. Masking was not possible for data collection, but analyses were masked. Analysis was by intention to treat. This trial is registered at, number NCC01590095.


Between May 31, 2012, and July 7, 2013, 5551 pregnant women in 720 clusters were randomly allocated to one of seven groups. 1382 women were assigned to the control group; 698 to water; 696 to sanitation; 688 to handwashing; 702 to water, sanitation, and handwashing; 699 to nutrition; and 686 to water, sanitation, handwashing, and nutrition. 331 (6%) women were lost to follow-up. Data on diarrhoea at year 1 or year 2 (combined) were available for 14 425 children (7331 in year 1, 7094 in year 2) and data on length-for-age Z score in year 2 were available for 4584 children (92% of living children were measured at year 2). All interventions had high adherence. Compared with a prevalence of 5·7% (200 of 3517 child weeks) in the control group, 7-day diarrhoea prevalence was lower among index children and children under 3 years at enrolment who received sanitation (61 [3·5%] of 1760; prevalence ratio 0·61, 95% CI 0·46-0·81), handwashing (62 [3·5%] of 1795; 0·60, 0·45-0·80), combined water, sanitation, and handwashing (74 [3·9%] of 1902; 0·69, 0·53-0·90), nutrition (62 [3·5%] of 1766; 0·64, 0·49-0·85), and combined water, sanitation, handwashing, and nutrition (66 [3·5%] of 1861; 0·62, 0·47-0·81); diarrhoea prevalence was not significantly lower in children receiving water treatment (90 [4·9%] of 1824; 0·89, 0·70-1·13). Compared with control (mean length-for-age Z score -1·79), children were taller by year 2 in the nutrition group (mean difference 0·25 [95% CI 0·15-0·36]) and in the combined water, sanitation, handwashing, and nutrition group (0·13 [0·02-0·24]). The individual water, sanitation, and handwashing groups, and combined water, sanitation, and handwashing group had no effect on linear growth.


Nutrient supplementation and counselling modestly improved linear growth, but there was no benefit to the integration of water, sanitation, and handwashing with nutrition. Adherence was high in all groups and diarrhoea prevalence was reduced in all intervention groups except water treatment. Combined water, sanitation, and handwashing interventions provided no additive benefit over single interventions.


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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