Objectives of the Study
The primary objective of GEMS was to measure the population-based burden, microbiologic etiology, and adverse clinical consequences of MSD in developing countries, overall and by age, pathogen, site, and clinical syndrome (simple nonbloody diarrhea, dysentery, or profuse watery diarrhea). The adverse clinical consequences of interest included growth faltering according to World Health Organization (WHO) standards [9
], persistent diarrhea lasting ≥14 days, and death. The secondary objectives were (1) to determine the antigenic and genotypic characteristics of the leading pathogens to guide vaccine development; (2) to elucidate the risk factors attributable to the host, the microorganism, and the environment that are associated with the occurrence and adverse clinical outcomes of MSD; (3) to estimate the public and private financial costs, both direct and indirect, incurred during an episode of MSD; and (4) to create a central repository of well-characterized clinical specimens and isolated etiologic agents that can be shared with other investigators for future research.
Site Selection Criteria
Seven field sites were selected among countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, and The Gambia), and South Asia (Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan) with moderate to high under-five childhood mortality (Table ). To create a broad view of enteric disease epidemiology, we chose sites that together exemplified a spectrum of child health indicators, with variations in the prevalence of malaria and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, and a mixture of urban, rural, and periurban settings (Table ). Sites were required to have access to a population that had been or could undergo a census accompanied by an address system to allow households to be revisited in the future, and to 1 or more healthcare facilities that provide care to children from that population with diarrhea. Infrastructure with the potential for computerized data management, secure freezer storage, at least intermittent internet transmission, and the ability to ship specimens and strains abroad had to be available, with capabilities to perform coprocultures, antigen-detection tests, and nucleic-acid based assays.
Selected Child Health Indicators Available in 2005 and Used to Guide Site Selectiona
Establishing a Sampling Frame for the Case/Control Study and Selecting Health Centers for Case Recruitment
The census at each site will enable population-based estimates of the outcomes of interest. Each census was continually updated using a demographic surveillance system (DSS) in which the households were visited every 4–6 months to record pregnancies, births, deaths, and migrations in and out of the area. Between DSS visits, we enlisted a community reporter from each neighborhood to meet weekly with local leaders (religious figures, political representatives, and elders) and midwives to detect births and deaths among children 0–59 months of age. The reporter visited near-term pregnant women as an additional means of capturing births. Keeping the DSS current was necessary to maintain an accurate sampling frame from which to select matched community controls for the case/control study, and for the timely performance of verbal autopsies, as described below.
In preparation for the case/control study, we performed a Health Care Utilization and Attitudes Survey (HUAS). An age-stratified sample of approximately 1000 children aged 0–59 months per site randomly selected from each updated DSS dataset was visited at home, and parents/primary caretakers were asked whether their child had experienced diarrhea during the previous 14 days. If so, the presence of findings suggestive of MSD was solicited (sunken eyes, wrinkled skin, hospitalization, receipt of intravenous hydration, or dysentery), and source(s) of healthcare were recorded. These data were used to adjust the size of the DSS population at each site as necessary to contribute the requisite number of cases of MSD to each age stratum, and to select 1 or more “sentinel” health centers (SHCs) serving the DSS population at each site (Table ) as venues for the case/control study based on their potential to capture MSD cases from the DSS.
During the second and third years of the case/control study, an abbreviated HUAS questionnnaire (designated “HUAS-lite”) was administered to caretakers of approximately 1000 randomly selected children aged 0–59 months (age-stratified) approximately every 4 to 6 months in association with the DSS interviews. HUAS-lite data were used to refine the selection of SHCs, to estimate the extent to which children with MSD who seek care at SHC are representative of children with MSD in the DSS population (by comparing features of those who do and do not seek care), and to calculate the proportion of children with MSD who sought care at the SHCs at each site (r value) as a means of extrapolating the overall and pathogen-specific MSD episodes enumerated at the SHCs to derive the incidence estimates for the entire DSS population (see Blackwelder, et al, this supplement).
Process Development and Training
Paper case report forms (CRFs) were created and translated into the 4 languages spoken by the interviewers (English, French, Portuguese, and dual Dholuo and English) according to preference of the local study teams. Interviews were always conducted in the native language of the respondent. Initial versions of the CRFs were field tested, then modified as needed at a 4-day study development meeting attended by each site's senior clinical investigators and study coordinators.
A pilot case/control study was conducted for approximately 3 months followed by the full, 36-month case/control study. Before the pilot and full-study initiations, we conducted a 5-day training program at each site, using interactive adult learning techniques with group participation, role playing, small group practice sessions, and evaluations of competency. We compiled an interviewers' and a supervisors' manual of procedures which served as the basis for training sessions. The curriculum covered the principles of human subjects research and elements of good clinical practices [10
], how to conduct an interview (eg, issues of privacy, building rapport with the respondent, and asking questions in a nonjudgmental way), perform a focused physical examination, collect, process, and transport stool specimens, and document observations of water and sanitation facilities. The meaning of each question and response choice was discussed. Terms were defined, using pictures and graphics whenever applicable. Participants practiced a standardized format for handwriting English letters and numbers to reduce frequency of errors in data recording and entry. The supervisors' manual and training focused on supportive supervision techniques, training, handling underperforming staff, quality management, tracking study activities, and performing oversight, spot checks, and reinterviews to ensure the validity and reliability of the data.
We enlisted the assistance of an experienced anthropometrist to train the clinical and field staff at 1 site in Asia and 1 site in Africa in obtaining length/height, weight, and mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) measurements. These 3-day training sessions also served the purpose of training the Epidemiology Team from the core site at the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD), University of Maryland, Baltimore (K. L. K., D. N., and T. H. F.), who then conducted similar training at the remaining 5 sites. On the third day of training, 10 children (5 aged 0–23 months and 5 aged 24–59 months) participated in a standardization session in which each trainee performed 2 independent measurements of the length/height and MUAC of each child. Intrarater reliability and validity were calculated using the anthropometrist (and later the CVD epidemiologist) as the “gold standard.” A difference of >0.5 cm was considered unacceptable when comparing a trainee's 2 measurements of the same child or when comparing the trainee's and the gold-standard measurements of the same child. Trainees with unacceptable performance were retrained until competency was achieved. A gold-standard measurer was identified at each site to supervise field measurements and to train all staff including newly hired staff every 4–6 months. Technical error of measurement and average bias will be calculated to assess inter- and intraobserver reproducibility as well as validity of measurements [11
We recognized that controversies persist regarding the most appropriate case definitions and detection methods for studying diarrhea, and that the approach chosen would impact the resultant estimates of disease burden [12
]. Consequently, as part of a consensus-building process, we assembled a Steering Committee on Epidemiologic and Clinical Issues comprising the lead investigators from each site, and a multinational group of 6 experts in diarrheal disease. The committee vetted the clinical protocol at the initial meeting. Thereafter, the committee was convened annually and on an ad hoc basis as issues arose. Once the study was initiated, external experts were assembled to form a Steering Committee on Nutritional Issues and a Steering Committee on Biostatistical Issues to review the analysis plan and to provide guidance as issues arose. In the final months of the study, an International Strategic Advisory Committee was formed to critically review the methodology and results and to advise the funding agency about the significance of the findings to inform its strategic planning for the future (Farag et al, this supplement).
Case Definition of MSD and Other Study Outcomes
The initial step in eligibility screening was the selection of children who fulfilled the WHO definition of diarrhea (≥3 abnormally loose stools in 24 hours [12
]). In subsequent steps we identified cases of MSD, the primary outcome of interest, intending to capture diarrheal illnesses that would not be expected to resolve spontaneously without medical intervention or without sequelae, because these illnesses constitute priorities for development of vaccines and other new or improved preventive and therapeutic strategies. We reasoned that episodes that would qualify as MSD fell into 2 general categories: (1) those accompanied by dehydration to a degree that the child's survival would likely depend on access to life-saving rehydration fluids, and (2) those with evidence of inflammatory destruction of the intestinal mucosa, thereby at increased risk for disabling sequelae (such as persistent diarrhea [14
] and stunting [15
]) or death [16
To capture children who had potentially life-threatening diarrheal dehydration, we adapted the WHO definition of dehydration to our case definition of MSD [18
], choosing the most objective signs (sunken eyes more than usual and slow or very slow recoil after an abdominal wall “skin pinch”). In addition, we included the determination by a healthcare provider that the severity of dehydration warranted administration of intravenous fluids. Although not part of our case definition, other signs of dehydration proposed by WHO were documented, including restlessness or irritability and drinking eagerly or appearing thirsty (considered to be signs of “some” dehydration), and lethargy, loss of consciousness, inability to drink, or drinking poorly (as signs of “severe” dehydration). During analysis we will explore the impact on the study findings of including these other signs of dehydration in the definition of MSD. We considered adopting as inclusion criteria elements of systems used widely to define severe illness in rotavirus vaccine trials [20
]. However, many of the components, such as total duration and maximum severity of diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, can only be determined in retrospect when the episode is resolving or resolved, at which point the decision to include a child in GEMS would already have been made. Instead, our approach has been to collect this information for exploration during analysis.
To capture children with evidence of diarrheal diseases caused by inflammation and mucosal injury in the case definition, we enrolled children with dysentery. Because there is no marker to predict which cases of dysentery are likely to experience clinically significant intestinal damage, we included all children with diarrhea who passed at least 1 stool containing visible blood according to either the caretaker or the clinician. Finally, we included children with diarrhea who appeared sufficiently ill to prompt the healthcare provider to recommend overnight admission to the hospital.
We restricted enrollment to children with acute MSD (≤7 days’ duration) to maximize the opportunity to identify the inciting pathogen and to collect new episodes that can be used together with DSS and HUAS data to estimate annual incidence rates. We defined an episode of diarrhea as days with diarrhea beginning after at least 7 diarrhea-free days and ending when diarrhea is not present for 7 days [23
]. Although the WHO definition of a new episode of diarrhea requires only 3 diarrhea-free days [12
], we chose a longer interval (as have other investigators [12
]) to increase our margin of certainty that the episode was new, recognizing that this approach could underestimate the incidence of MSD.
Cases of MSD were identified in SHCs (hospital, urgent care facilities, and community clinics) to capture those illnesses that are most severe and that collectively constitute a significant cost in healthcare services, and thus would be targeted for prevention by vaccines and other interventions (Figure ). GEMS staff were situated in the intake area at each SHC to complete a registration log documenting each visit made by a child 0–59 months old belonging to the DSS. The GEMS registrar was given access to the DSS database to verify that a child belonged to the DSS, and to record each enrolled child's unique DSS number as a means for determining, at a later date, who was enrolled into GEMS more than once. Each visit was assigned a unique screening identification number, and the registrar recorded the date and time the child entered the SHC; the child's age, sex, and village/neighborhood; whether the child had diarrhea; and whether the child was hospitalized. The GEMS registrar referred all children from the DSS who were aged 0–59 months and had diarrhea to a GEMS clinician. The clinician informed the parent/primary caretaker about the study, determined the child's eligibility (Table ), and obtained informed consent. If an eligible child was not enrolled, the reasons for nonenrollment were documented (eg, refusal, missed opportunity, stool sample inadequate or not obtained, 14-day quota filled, or child died before enrollment).
Flow diagram illustrating major study activities. Abbreviations: DSS, demographic surveillance system; SHC, sentinel health center; HUAS, Health Care Utilization and Attitudes Survey.
Each site aimed to enroll approximately 220 MSD patients per year into each of 3 age strata: 0–11 months, 12–23 months, and 24–59 months, totaling 1980 cases over 3 years. To ensure even sampling throughout the year, the target was to enroll approximately 8–9 cases per age stratum (25–26 cases overall) per fortnight. This strategy prevented the strata from being filled prematurely in seasons with high volume and respected the capacity limitations of the clinical and microbiology personnel, but because all DSS children with MSD were recorded, temporal increases in the case load of MSD and of specific diarrheal pathogens could be measured. Analyses for events that might have seasonal variation will take into account the sampling fraction of MSD for each period.
For each child with MSD included in the study, we enrolled 1–3 control children without diarrhea from the DSS community (Figure ) within 14 days of presentation of the index case. Sites tracked their ability to fill each age stratum on a fortnightly basis and followed an algorithm to determine the number of controls to enroll: 1:1 case:control matching if 7–9 cases were enrolled; 1:2 matching if 4–6 cases were enrolled, and 1:3 matching if ≤3 cases were enrolled. At least 4 children who met the matching criteria (Table ) were randomly selected from the DSS database as potential controls. A field worker visited the home of selected children sequentially and explained all aspects of the study. If the parent/primary caretaker expressed interest and the child met eligibility criteria (Table ), informed, written consent was obtained and arrangements were made to collect a stool sample, as described below. Reasons for not enrolling a selected child were documented (eg, refusal, not found at home after 3 attempts to contact, or failed to produce an adequate stool sample).
Data Collection at Enrollment From Cases and Controls
Case enrollment interviews took place at the SHC whereas control caretakers were interviewed at home. To facilitate linkage of our results with existing databases, we designed our caretaker interviews to include questions found in the primary sources of population-based data used to estimate child mortality in developing countries, such as the UNICEF-supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys and the US Agency for International Development–supported Demographic and Heath Surveys [1
]. Demographic information collected about the case or control and his/her household (defined as a group of people who share a cooking fire) included maternal education and household size (including the number of children <5 years old). Building materials and household possessions were documented (to assess potential risk factors for illness and as indicators for constructing a wealth index for each site [26
]). Questions addressed handwashing practices and access and availability of improved water and sanitation facilities [27
], animals on the premises, water treatment, sharing sanitation facilities, and disposal of the child's feces. The caretakers were queried about the child's clinical signs and symptoms; how the illness was managed prior to the SHC visit (the reference point was the current illness for cases and the most recent diarrheal illness for controls), for example, use of oral rehydration solutions, zinc, antibiotics, traditional medicines, continued feeding and fluid administration; healthcare seeking behavior; and breastfeeding practices. The household's direct (out-of-pocket) and indirect (eg, income lost while caring for the sick child) expenditures at home and at the SHC were tabulated. The GEMS staff measured the child's axillary digital temperature, respiratory rate (the average of 2 measures obtained using a rate counter), anthropometric dimensions (described below), and clinical signs of malnutrition (bipedal edema, wasting, flaky skin, and sparse or loose hair).
A clinician examined all cases to document signs of dehydration, including skin pinch return (graded as slow ≤2 seconds or very slow >2 seconds), sunken eyes (more than usual confirmed by the parent/primary caretaker), dry mouth (graded as somewhat or very dry), and mental status changes, and examined the child's rectum for signs of prolapse. A member of the clinical team examined the child's stool (if available) for visible blood and recorded any rehydration fluids, zinc, and antibiotics prescribed or administered at the SHC. Cases who remained in the SHC while receiving rehydration fluids were reweighed at 4 hours and again at discharge from the SHC, as applicable, at which points the clinician reassessed the child for signs of dehydration and determined his/her vital status and weight.
Collection and Processing of Stool Specimens
To qualify for enrollment, each case and control had to produce a whole stool specimen that weighed at least 3 grams. In one site (Kolkata), stool is routinely collected from hospitalized children by passing a small catheter into the child's rectum and aspirating loose stool using a syringe attached to the other end [28
]; at all other sites, whole stool was passed naturally per rectum. Cases were required to provide a whole stool specimen within 12 hours of registration at the center. To collect stool from control children at home, study staff provided the caretaker with a polystyrene foam container containing a cold pack, a culturally accepted stool collection device (such as a plastic “potty”), plastic gloves, a specimen cup, and a scoop. The field worker returned to the household the next morning (or sooner if called by the parent) to retrieve the stool sample and perform the study interview. Because children usually defecate in the morning, and since families frequently used cellular phones to alert the GEMS field team that the child had produced a stool, we were able to fulfill the study requirement of retrieving and processing freshly passed stools from cases and controls within 6 hours of evacuation. Processing involved inserting 2 cotton-tipped swabs into the specimen (if dysentery was present, an area of blood or mucus was swabbed); one swab was placed into modified Cary-Blair transport medium [29
], and the other into buffered glycerol saline [30
]. Remaining whole stool was retained in an empty vial. The processed sample was placed immediately into either a specimen refrigerator or a polystyrene foam container containing a fresh cold pack, to be delivered to the laboratory and plated within 24 hours. Stools were evaluated for bacterial pathogens (eg, Salmonella
, and Vibrio
species, and 5 diarrheal pathotypes of Escherichia coli
), protozoal agents (Entamoeba histolytica
, Giardia lamblia
, and Crytosporidium
species), and viruses (rotavirus, adenovirus, norovirus, sapovirus, and astrovirus) using microbiologic methods described elsewhere in this supplement (see Panchalingam et al, this supplement).
If antibiotics were to be administered to cases before the whole stool specimen was collected, 2 rectal swabs also were obtained. The cotton tip was moistened with transport media, gently inserted into the child's rectum, rotated 360°, and immediately inserted into transport media, as described above for whole stool swabs. Only swabs stained or covered with fecal material were accepted by the laboratory. This strategy permitted collection of an adequate sample for bacteriology (ie, rectal swabs) prior to antibiotic administration as well as a whole stool for identification of pathogens that are best detected in whole stool but are not expected to be affected by antibiotic administration (see Panchalingam et al, this supplement).
Memory Aid for Recording Diarrheal Episodes in Cases and Controls During the 14 Days After Enrollment
We created a memory aid suitable for use by adults regardless of literacy (Figure ). The data will be used to detect the occurrence of persistent diarrhea in cases and to explore whether the inclusion of control children who developed diarrhea within 7 days after enrollment impacted the association between specific pathogens and MSD. The tool was developed in collaboration with a representative from the Malian Office of Literacy and modified in response to focus groups and field testing at each site. After receiving training at the enrollment visit, each day for the next 14 days the parent/primary caretakers marked whether the child had normal stools only, or diarrhea (passage of ≥3 abnormally loose stools in the previous 24 hours). The aid was reviewed with the caretaker at the 60-day follow-up visit to resolve missing or unclear markings and then collected. Diarrhea that continued unabated through day 14 will be termed “persistent diarrhea”; diarrheal episodes that continued beyond day 14 (the last day the memory tool collected data) were not systematically tracked.
Memory aid completed by the caretaker to document the occurrence of diarrhea for 14 days after enrollment of cases and controls.
Clinical and Epidemiologic Data Collected at the Single Household Follow-up Visit
GEMS field workers visited the household of each case and control child approximately 60 days after enrollment (acceptable range, 50–90 days). They assessed vital status, recorded interim medical events, took the child's axillary temperature, and performed anthropometric measurements. They directly observed the household's drinking water sources, storage containers, and treatment practices, and tested the water for chlorine if the household reported that they treated it. They examined the sanitation facilities and noted whether fecal contamination was present, and observed hygiene indicators, such as the proximity of soap to the hand washing station.
Weight, length/height, and MUAC were measured for each case and control at enrollment and at the 60-day follow-up visit as previously described [31
]. Weight (to the nearest 0.1 kg) was recorded prior to administration of rehydration fluids with the child naked or in light clothing using a digital scale that was calibrated at least weekly (model 314, Tanita Corp of America, Arlington Heights, Illinois); for children 0–23 months of age, the weight of the mother alone and with the child was recorded, and the child's weight was computed during analysis. The length of children 0–23 months of age or those who were older but unable to stand unassisted was measured (to the nearest 0.1 cm) in the recumbent position using a board with a fixed head and sliding foot piece (Shorr Productions, Olney Maryland). The same apparatus was used to measure standing height in children 2 years of age and older. A 25-cm paper single-slotted insertion tape was used to measure MUAC to the nearest 0.1 cm (Shorr Productions). Length/height and MUAC were each measured thrice; the average will be calculated during analysis [32
In appreciation of the importance of HIV infection on the incidence and outcomes from diarrheal disease, including an increased likelihood of dying from an episode of diarrhea compared with HIV-infected children [33
], we considered including systematic HIV testing as part of the initial study design but concluded that it was beyond the scope of our capabilities. As the study progressed, national guidelines for provider-initiated counseling and testing were adopted at the Kenya and Mozambique study sites (the only 2 GEMS study sites with high HIV seroprevalence in adults), and home-based counseling and testing has been implemented at the Kenya site. As a result, during the last 2 years of GEMS, we incorporated voluntary HIV testing or the ability to link to existing HIV test results of mothers and children into the study protocol at these 2 sites. Informed consent was obtained to link HIV test results (for participating child and his/her mother) to GEMS data. We will compare frequency, outcomes, and etiologies of episodes of diarrheal diseases among infected and uninfected children born to infected mothers, and among uninfected children born to uninfected mothers.
Detection of Deaths and Performance of Verbal Autopsy
Two parallel systems were in place at all sites to detect deaths. The GEMS team ascertained deaths among children enrolled in the case/control study during the enrollment encounter and at the 60-day follow-up visit. Concomitantly, the DSS teams identified all under-5 deaths regardless of enrollment status. In either case, the DSS team obtained a verbal autopsy using WHO standardized questionnaires with minor modifications [35
]. Local customs were followed to respect the mourning period after which a family could be contacted. Whenever possible, information on the cause of death was collected from the medical chart, the healthcare provider, and the death certificate for use as a means to validate the results of the verbal autopsy [36
]. A uniform algorithm will be used across all sites to determine the cause of death. The mortality associated with diarrhea and dysentery among enrolled and nonenrolled children will be calculated.
Sample Size Considerations
A sample size at each site of approximately 600 analyzable cases and 1–3 matched controls per stratum was chosen to provide 80% power (2-sided α = .05) for site stratum–specific comparison of the proportion of cases and controls in whom a specific enteropathogen is identified, if a specific pathogen is identified in at least 5.8% of cases and 2.5% of controls. In the event that the proportion of cases with a specific pathogen exceeds 5.8%, the absolute difference between cases and controls needed to achieve statistical significance increases. For example, this sample size will give 80% power to find a significant difference if the proportion is 9.8% in cases vs 5.5% or less in controls. To compensate for dropout, migration, and other losses to follow-up of up to 10%, we planned to enroll a total of 660 cases per stratum per site to achieve the desired number of analyzable cases and controls.
Ethical Considerations and Oversight
GEMS was designed as an observational study that confers minimal risk, and is expected to generate information that can be used by the scientific, public health, policy, and healthcare provider communities to improve the prevention and treatment of diarrheal diseases in the future, both at the site level and globally. Each site was expected to follow WHO guidelines for the clinical diagnosis and management of diarrheal disease, which represent a universal standard of care [18
]. We provided supplementary funding for procurement of medical supplies (eg, oral rehydration solution, antibiotics, intravenous cannulae, and fluids) to be used to treat patients with diarrhea at the discretion of each participating SHC. We did not attempt to systematically introduce newer aspects of diarrhea management, such as low-osmolality oral rehydration solution and zinc, in sites lacking national policies to guide usage and trained health providers to administer these products [37
]. At the time of study initiation, no site routinely performed the spectrum of assays provided by GEMS to detect potentially treatable pathogens (bacterial culture and immunoassays for protozoa). Therefore, the sites were expected to ensure timely provision of the GEMS results to the clinicians for use in case management. We shared interim results (eg, distribution of pathogens, management of diarrhea, and sequelae) with the investigators and the international community annually at investigators' meetings and at scientific conferences, and each site received a cleaned dataset each year that could be used for more detailed exploration.
The clinical protocol, consent forms, CRFs, and other supporting documents were approved prior to initiation of the study by the ethics committees and applicable scientific review boards at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and the committees overseeing each site and their collaborating partners from other institutions. Amendments and annual reports underwent ethics committee review. Consent forms were translated into 11 local languages and modified according to the standards at each site; full approval of the University of Maryland ethics committee required back-translation into English and certification by an independent bilingual speaker that the 2 versions were identical. Individual, informed consent was obtained from the parent/primary caretaker of each participant prior to study activities. When the person supplying consent was illiterate, an impartial third party witnessed the consent process and signed the consent document. Some sites additionally obtained “community consent” from local leaders who were convened in a public forum to discuss the study aims, procedures, potential risks, and benefits.
Data Flow, Management, and Analysis
A data coordinating center (DCC) was responsible for centralized data management as described elsewhere (see Biswas et al, this supplement). In brief, sites transmitted completed CRF pages to the DCC using a variety of electronic formats, but primarily by secure file transfer protocol (SFTP). Although the CRFs were printed in different languages, the structure of the fields was maintained to permit generation of a single database containing data from all sites. The DataFax software system (Clinical DataFax Systems, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) was used to build and manage the master database and aided in the electronic validation process based on character recognition software. Timelines for transmission of data, data queries, and query resolution were established. A system of security measures and backup procedures preserved the integrity of the data and ensured restoration capabilities.
The GEMS analytic plan (see Blackwelder et al, this supplement) addressed 3 main goals: (1) to determine the major pathogens responsible for MSD, taking into account the prevalence of each pathogen, the frequency of asymptomatic infection in controls, and the presence of multiple pathogens; (2) to determine the pathogen-specific attributable fraction of MSD by age within each site and to extend these estimates to the DSS population; and (3) to identify independent risk factors, including demographic, environmental, and socioeconomic factors as well as pathogens, for MSD and other outcomes of interest (especially death and child growth) using multivariable models.
Activities to ensure high-quality data collection included in-depth training followed by assessment of competency using a variety of techniques, such as written tests and observations (with feedback) during training sessions. To control the quality of data entry, a field supervisor at each site reviewed all completed CRFs daily for legibility, completeness, and consistency. The supervisor's signature indicating that all discrepancies were resolved was required for submission to the DCC. Quality control at the DCC to detect missing data, missing forms, out-of-range values, and data inconsistencies is described elsewhere (see Biswas et al, this supplement).
Supervision and oversight were maintained for quality assurance purposes. Supervisors utilized growth charts and predefined criteria to identify (in real time) aberrant measurements that should be repeated, such values that were lower at 60 days compared to enrollment. Clinical and field supervisors performed random reinterviews to ensure the validity of the data collected by the GEMS clinicians and field workers. The CVD epidemiology team visited each site at least twice per year to observe study activities, review the regulatory files, randomly inspect consent forms and CRFs, and retrain as necessary. They provided a written feedback to the site and the CVD investigators. They maintained at least weekly contact with the teams with the use of email, internet calls, and teleconferences. A regulatory affairs specialist at the CVD oversaw the quality, timeliness, and completeness of submissions to each relevant institutional review board, and ensured that each site was compliant with US regulatory requirements. Sites reported all protocol deviations to the CVD team and a corrective action plan was developed jointly.