PLoS Med 2019 Jun 3;16(6):e1002812. Epub 2019 Jun 3.
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom.
Background: Unsafe drinking water and household air pollution (HAP) are major causes of morbidity and mortality among children under 5 in low and middle-income countries. Household water filters and higher-efficiency biomass-burning cookstoves have been widely promoted to improve water quality and reduce fuel use, but there is limited evidence of their health effects when delivered programmatically at scale.
Methods And Findings: In a large-scale program in Western Province, Rwanda, water filters and portable biomass-burning natural draft rocket-style cookstoves were distributed between September and December 2014 and promoted to over 101,000 households in the poorest economic quartile in 72 (of 96) randomly selected sectors in Western Province. To assess the effects of the intervention, between August and December, 2014, we enrolled 1,582 households that included a child under 4 years from 174 randomly selected village-sized clusters, half from intervention sectors and half from nonintervention sectors. At baseline, 76% of households relied primarily on an improved source for drinking water (piped, borehole, protected spring/well, or rainwater) and over 99% cooked primarily on traditional biomass-burning stoves. We conducted follow-up at 3 time-points between February 2015 and March 2016 to assess reported diarrhea and acute respiratory infections (ARIs) among children <5 years in the preceding 7 days (primary outcomes) and patterns of intervention use, drinking water quality, and air quality. The intervention reduced the prevalence of reported child diarrhea by 29% (prevalence ratio [PR] 0.71, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.59-0.87, p = 0.001) and reported child ARI by 25% (PR 0.75, 95% CI 0.60-0.93, p = 0.009). Overall, more than 62% of households were observed to have water in their filters at follow-up, while 65% reported using the intervention stove every day, and 55% reported using it primarily outdoors. Use of both the intervention filter and intervention stove decreased throughout follow-up, while reported traditional stove use increased. The intervention reduced the prevalence of households with detectable fecal contamination in drinking water samples by 38% (PR 0.62, 95% CI 0.57-0.68, p < 0.0001) but had no significant impact on 48-hour personal exposure to log-transformed fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations among cooks (β = -0.089, p = 0.486) or children (β = -0.228, p = 0.127). The main limitations of this trial include the unblinded nature of the intervention, limited PM2.5 exposure measurement, and a reliance on reported intervention use and reported health outcomes.
Conclusions: Our findings indicate that the intervention improved household drinking water quality and reduced caregiver-reported diarrhea among children <5 years. It also reduced caregiver-reported ARI despite no evidence of improved air quality. Further research is necessary to ascertain longer-term intervention use and benefits and to explore the potential synergistic effects between diarrhea and ARI.
Trial Registration: Clinical Trials.gov NCT02239250.