Effect of Household-Based Drinking Water Chlorination on Diarrhoea Among Children Under Five in Orissa, India
A double-blind randomised placebo-controlled trial
Boiling, disinfecting, and filtering water within the home can improve the microbiological quality of drinking water among the hundreds of millions of people who rely on unsafe water supplies. However, the impact of these interventions on diarrhoea is unclear. Most studies using open trial designs have reported a protective effect on diarrhoea while blinded studies of household water treatment in low-income settings have found no such effect. However, none of those studies were powered to detect an impact among children under five and participants were followed-up over short periods of time.
The aim of this study was to measure the effect of in-home water disinfection on diarrhoea among children under five.We conducted a double-blind randomized controlled trial between November 2010 and December 2011. The study included 2,163 households and 2,986 children under five in rural and urban communities of Orissa, India. The intervention consisted of an intensive promotion campaign and free distribution of sodium dichloroisocyanurate (NaDCC) tablets during bi-monthly households visits. An independent evaluation team visited households monthly for one year to collect health data and water samples. The primary outcome was the longitudinal prevalence of diarrhoea (3-day point prevalence) among children aged under five. Weight-for-age was also measured at each visit to assess its potential as a proxy marker for diarrhoea. Adherence was monitored each month through caregiver's reports and the presence of residual free chlorine in the child's drinking water at the time of visit. On 20% of the total household visits, children's drinking water was assayed for thermo-tolerant coliforms (TTC), an indicator of faecal contamination.
The primary analysis was on an intention-to-treat basis. Binomial regression with a log link function and robust standard errors was used to compare prevalence of diarrhoea between arms. We used generalized estimating equations to account for clustering at the household level. The impact of the intervention on weight-for-age z scores (WAZ) was analyzed using random effect linear regression. Over the follow-up period, 84,391 child-days of observations were recorded, representing 88% of total possible child-days of observation. The longitudinal prevalence of diarrhoea among intervention children was 1.69% compared to 1.74% among controls. After adjusting for clustering within household, the prevalence ratio of the intervention to control was 0.95 (95% CI 0.79–1.13). The mean WAZ was similar among children of the intervention and control groups (−1.586 versus −1.589, respectively). Among intervention households, 51% reported their child's drinking water to be treated with the tablets at the time of visit, though only 32% of water samples tested positive for residual chlorine. Faecal contamination of drinking water was lower among intervention households than controls (geometric mean TTC count of 50 [95% CI 44–57] per 100 ml compared to 122 [95% CI 107–139] per 100 ml among controls [p<0.001] [n = 4,546]).
Our study was designed to overcome the shortcomings of previous double-blinded trials of household water treatment in low-income settings. The sample size was larger, the follow-up period longer, both urban and rural populations were included, and adherence and water quality were monitored extensively over time. These results provide no evidence that the intervention was protective against diarrhoea. Low compliance and modest reduction in water contamination may have contributed to the lack of effect. However, our findings are consistent with other blinded studies of similar interventions and raise additional questions about the actual health impact of household water treatment under these conditions.