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1.  Effect of Household-Based Drinking Water Chlorination on Diarrhoea among Children under Five in Orissa, India: A Double-Blind Randomised Placebo-Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(8):e1001497.
Sophie Boisson and colleagues conducted a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial in Orissa, a state in southeast India, to evaluate the effect of household water treatment in preventing diarrheal illnesses in children aged under five years of age.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
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.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a double-blind randomised 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 thermotolerant 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 generalised estimating equations to account for clustering at the household level. The impact of the intervention on weight-for-age z scores (WAZ) was analysed 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]).
Conclusions
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.
Trial Registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01202383
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Millennium Development Goal 7 calls for halving the proportion of the global population without sustainable access to safe drinking water between 1990 and 2015. Although this target was met in 2010, according to latest figures, 768 million people world-wide still rely on unimproved drinking water sources. Access to clean drinking water is integral to good health and a key strategy in reducing diarrhoeal illness: Currently, 1.3 million children aged less than five years die of diarrhoeal illnesses every year with a sixth of such deaths occurring in one country—India. Although India has recently made substantial progress in improving water supplies throughout the country, currently almost 90% of the rural population does not have a water connection to their house and drinking water supplies throughout the country are extensively contaminated with human waste. A strategy internationally referred to as Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS), which involves people boiling, chlorinating, and filtering water at home, has been recommended by the World Health Organization and UNICEF to improve water quality at the point of delivery.
Why Was This Study Done?
The WHO and UNICEF strategy to promote HWTS is based on previous studies from low-income settings that found that such interventions could reduce diarrhoeal illnesses by between 30%–40%. However, these studies had several limitations including reporting bias, short follow up periods, and small sample sizes; and importantly, in blinded studies (in which both the study participants and researchers are unaware of which participants are receiving the intervention or the control) have found no evidence that HWTS is protective against diarrhoeal illnesses. So the researchers conducted a blinded study (a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial) in Orissa, a state in southeast India, to address those shortcomings and evaluate the effect of household water treatment in preventing diarrhoeal illnesses in children under five years of age.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers conducted their study in 11 informal settlements (where the inhabitants do not benefit from public water or sewers) in the state's capital city and also in 20 rural villages. 2,163 households were randomized to receive the intervention—the promotion and free distribution of sodium dichloroisocyanurate (chlorine) disinfection tablets with instruction on how to use them—or placebo tablets that were similar in appearance and had the same effervescent base as the chlorine tablets. Trained field workers visited households every month for 12 months (between December 2010 and December 2011) to record whether any child had experienced diarrhoea in the previous three days (as reported by the primary care giver). The researchers tested compliance with the intervention by asking participants if they had treated the water and also by testing for chlorine in the water.
Using these methods, the researchers found that over the 12-month follow-up period, the longitudinal prevalence of diarrhoea among children in the intervention group was 1.69% compared to 1.74% in the control group, a non-significant finding (a finding that could have happened by chance). There was also no difference in diarrhoea prevalence among other household members in the two groups and no difference in weight for age z scores (a measurement of growth) between children in the two groups. The researchers also found that although just over half (51%) of households in the intervention group reported treating their water, on testing, only 32% of water samples tested positive for chlorine. Finally, the researchers found that water quality (as measured by thermotolerant coliforms, TTCs) was better in the intervention group than the control group.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that treating water with chlorine tablets has no effect in reducing the prevalence of diarrhoea in both children aged under five years and in other household members in Orissa, India. However, poor compliance was a major issue with only a third of households in the intervention group confirmed as treating their water with chlorine tablets. Furthermore, these findings are limited in that the prevalence of diarrhoea was lower than expected, which may have also reduced the power of detecting a potential effect of the intervention. Nevertheless, this study raises questions about the health impact of household water treatment and highlights the key challenge of poor compliance with public health interventions.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001497.
The website of the World Health Organization has a section dedicated to household water treatment and safe storage, including a network to promote the use of HWTS and a toolkit to measure HWTS
The Water Institute hosts the communications portal for the International Network on Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001497
PMCID: PMC3747993  PMID: 23976883
2.  Health and Human Rights in Chin State, Western Burma: A Population-Based Assessment Using Multistaged Household Cluster Sampling 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(2):e1001007.
Sollom and colleagues report the findings from a household survey study carried out in Western Burma; they report a high prevalence of human rights violations such as forced labor, food theft, forced displacement, beatings, and ethnic persecution.
Background
The Chin State of Burma (also known as Myanmar) is an isolated ethnic minority area with poor health outcomes and reports of food insecurity and human rights violations. We report on a population-based assessment of health and human rights in Chin State. We sought to quantify reported human rights violations in Chin State and associations between these reported violations and health status at the household level.
Methods and Findings
Multistaged household cluster sampling was done. Heads of household were interviewed on demographics, access to health care, health status, food insecurity, forced displacement, forced labor, and other human rights violations during the preceding 12 months. Ratios of the prevalence of household hunger comparing exposed and unexposed to each reported violation were estimated using binomial regression, and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were constructed. Multivariate models were done to adjust for possible confounders. Overall, 91.9% of households (95% CI 89.7%–94.1%) reported forced labor in the past 12 months. Forty-three percent of households met FANTA-2 (Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance II project) definitions for moderate to severe household hunger. Common violations reported were food theft, livestock theft or killing, forced displacement, beatings and torture, detentions, disappearances, and religious and ethnic persecution. Self reporting of multiple rights abuses was independently associated with household hunger.
Conclusions
Our findings indicate widespread self-reports of human rights violations. The nature and extent of these violations may warrant investigation by the United Nations or International Criminal Court.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
More than 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, thousands of people around the world are still deprived of their basic human rights—life, liberty, and security of person. In many countries, people live in fear of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, forced labor, religious and ethnic persecution, forced displacement, and murder. In addition, ongoing conflicts and despotic governments deprive them of the ability to grow sufficient food (resulting in food insecurity) and deny them access to essential health care. In Burma, for example, the military junta, which seized power in 1962, frequently confiscates land unlawfully, demands forced labor, and uses violence against anyone who protests. Burma is also one of the world's poorest countries in terms of health indicators. Its average life expectancy is 54 years, its maternal mortality rate (380 deaths among women from pregnancy-related causes per 100,000 live births) is nearly ten times higher than that of neighboring Thailand, and its under-five death rate (122/1000 live births) is twice that of nearby countries. Moreover, nearly half of Burmese children under 5 are stunted, and a third of young children are underweight, indicators of malnutrition in a country that, on paper, has a food surplus.
Why Was This Study Done?
Investigators are increasingly using population-based methods to quantify the associations between human rights violations and health outcomes. In eastern Burma, for example, population-based research has recently revealed a link between human rights violations and reduced access to maternal health-care services. In this study, the researchers undertake a population-based assessment of health and human rights in Chin State, an ethnic minority area in western Burma where multiple reports of human rights abuses have been documented and from which thousands of people have fled. In particular, the researchers investigate correlations between household hunger and household experiences of human rights violations—food security in Chin State is affected by periodic expansions of rat populations that devastate crop yields, by farmers being forced by the government to grow an inedible oil crop (jatropha), and by the Burmese military regularly stealing food and livestock.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Local surveyors questioned the heads of randomly selected households in Chin State about their household's access to health care and its health status, and about forced labor and other human rights violations experienced by the household during the preceding 12 months. They also asked three standard questions about food availability, the answers to which were combined to provide a measure of household hunger. Of the 621 households interviewed, 91.9% reported at least one episode of a household member being forced to work in the preceding 12 months. The Burmese military imposed two-thirds of these forced labor demands. Other human rights violations reported included beating or torture (14.8% of households), religious or ethnic persecutions (14.1% of households), and detention or imprisonment of a family member (5.9% of households). Forty-three percent of the households met the US Agency for International Development Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance (FANTA) definition for moderate to severe household hunger, and human rights violations related to food insecurity were common. For example, more than half the households were forced to give up food out of fear of violence. A statistical analysis of these data indicated that the prevalence of household hunger was 6.51 times higher in households that had experienced three food-related human rights violations than in households that had not experienced such violations.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings quantify the extent to which the Chin ethnic minority in Burma is subjected to multiple human rights violations and indicate the geographical spread of these abuses. Importantly, they show that the health impacts of human rights violations in Chin State are substantial. In addition, they suggest that the indirect health outcomes of human rights violations probably dwarf the mortality from direct killings. Although this study has some limitations (for example, surveyors had to work in secret and it was not safe for them to collect biological samples that could have given a more accurate indication of the health status of households than questions alone), these findings should encourage the international community to intensify its efforts to reduce human rights violations in Burma.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001007.
The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is available in numerous languages
The Burma Campaign UK and Human Rights Watch provide detailed information about human rights violations in Burma (in several languages)
The World Health Organization provides information on health in Burma and on human rights (in several languages)
The Mae Tao clinic also provides general information about Burma and its health services (including some information in Thai)
A PLoS Medicine Research Article by Luke Mullany and colleagues provides data on human rights violations and maternal health in Burma
The Chin Human Rights Organization is working to protect and promote the rights of the Chin people
The Global Health Access Program (GHAP) provides information on health in Burma
FANTA works to improve nutrition and global food security policies
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001007
PMCID: PMC3035608  PMID: 21346799
3.  The Effect of Handwashing at Recommended Times with Water Alone and With Soap on Child Diarrhea in Rural Bangladesh: An Observational Study 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(6):e1001052.
By observing handwashing behavior in 347 households from 50 villages across rural Bangladesh in 2007, Stephen Luby and colleagues found that hand washing with soap or hand rinsing without soap before food preparation can both reduce the burden of childhood diarrhea.
Background
Standard public health interventions to improve hand hygiene in communities with high levels of child mortality encourage community residents to wash their hands with soap at five separate key times, a recommendation that would require mothers living in impoverished households to typically wash hands with soap more than ten times per day. We analyzed data from households that received no intervention in a large prospective project evaluation to assess the relationship between observed handwashing behavior and subsequent diarrhea.
Methods and Findings
Fieldworkers conducted a 5-hour structured observation and a cross-sectional survey in 347 households from 50 villages across rural Bangladesh in 2007. For the subsequent 2 years, a trained community resident visited each of the enrolled households every month and collected information on the occurrence of diarrhea in the preceding 48 hours among household residents under the age of 5 years. Compared with children living in households where persons prepared food without washing their hands, children living in households where the food preparer washed at least one hand with water only (odds ratio [OR] = 0.78; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.57–1.05), washed both hands with water only (OR = 0.67; 95% CI = 0.51–0.89), or washed at least one hand with soap (OR = 0.30; 95% CI = 0.19–0.47) had less diarrhea. In households where residents washed at least one hand with soap after defecation, children had less diarrhea (OR = 0.45; 95% CI = 0.26–0.77). There was no significant association between handwashing with or without soap before feeding a child, before eating, or after cleaning a child's anus who defecated and subsequent child diarrhea.
Conclusions
These observations suggest that handwashing before preparing food is a particularly important opportunity to prevent childhood diarrhea, and that handwashing with water alone can significantly reduce childhood diarrhea.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The resurgence of donor interest in regarding water and sanitation as fundamental public health issues has been a welcome step forward and will do much to improve the health of the 1.1 billion people world-wide without access to clean water and the 2.4 billion without access to improved sanitation. However, improving hygiene practices is also very important—studies have consistently shown that handwashing with soap reduces childhood diarrheal disease—but in reality is particularly difficult to do as this activity involves complex behavioral changes. Therefore although public health programs in communities with high child mortality commonly promote handwashing with soap, this practice is still uncommon and washing hands with water only is still common practice—partly because of the high cost of soap relative to income, the risk that conveniently placed soap would be stolen or wasted, and the inconvenience of fetching soap.
Handwashing promotion programs often focus on five “key times” for handwashing with soap—after defecation, after handling child feces or cleaning a child's anus, before preparing food, before feeding a child, and before eating—which would require requesting busy impoverished mothers to wash their hands with soap more than ten times a day.
Why Was This Study Done?
In addition to encouraging handwashing only at the most critical times, clarifying whether handwashing with water alone, a behavior that is seemingly much easier for people to practice, but for which there is little evidence, may be a way forward. In order to guide more focused and evidence-based recommendations, the researchers evaluated the control group of a large handwashing, hygiene/sanitation, and water quality improvement program—Sanitation, Hygiene Education and Water supply-Bangladesh (SHEWA-B), organized and supported by the Bangladesh Government, UNICEF, and the UK's Department for International Development. The researchers analyzed the relationship between handwashing behavior as observed at baseline and the subsequent experience of child diarrhea in participating households to identify which specific handwashing behaviors were associated with less diarrhea in young children.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The SHEWA-B intervention targeted 19.6 million people in rural Bangladesh in 68 subdistricts. In this study and with community and household consent, the researchers organized trained field workers, using a pretested instrument, to note handwashing behavior at key times and recorded handwashing behavior of all observed household at baseline in 50 randomly selected villages that served as nonintervention control households to compare with outcomes to communities receiving the SHEWA-B program. The fieldworkers recruited community monitors, female village residents who completed 3 days training on how to administer the monthly diarrhea survey, to record the frequency of diarrhea in children aged less than 3 years in control households for the subsequent two years. The researchers used statistical models to evaluate the association between the exposure variables (household characteristics and observed handwashing) and diarrhea.
Using these methods, the researchers found that compared to no handwashing at all before food preparation, children living in households where the food preparer washed at least one hand with water only, washed both hands with water only, or washed at least one hand with soap, had less diarrhea with odds ratios (ORs) of 0.78, 0.67, and 0.19, respectively. In households where residents washed at least one hand with soap after defecation, children had less diarrhea (OR = 0.45), but there was no significant association between handwashing with or without soap before feeding a child, before eating, or after cleaning a child's anus, and subsequent child diarrhea.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings from 50 villages across rural Bangladesh where fecal environmental contamination, undernutrition, and diarrhea are common, suggest that handwashing before preparing food is a particularly important opportunity to prevent childhood diarrhea, and also that handwashing with water alone can significantly reduce childhood diarrhea. In contrast to current standard recommendations, these results suggest that promoting handwashing exclusively with soap may be unwarranted. Handwashing with water alone might be seen as a step on the handwashing ladder: handwashing with water is good; handwashing with soap is better. Therefore, handwashing promotion programs in rural Bangladesh should not attempt to modify handwashing behavior at all five key times, but rather, should focus primarily on handwashing after defecation and before food preparation. Furthermore, research to develop and evaluate handwashing messages that account for the limited time and soap supplies available for low-income families, and are focused on those behaviors where there is the strongest evidence for a health benefit could help identify more effective strategies.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001052.
A four-part collection of Policy Forum articles published in November 2010 in PLoS Medicine, called “Water and Sanitation,” provides information on water, sanitation, and hygiene
Hygiene Central provides information on improving hygiene practices
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001052
PMCID: PMC3125291  PMID: 21738452
4.  Preventing Acute Malnutrition among Young Children in Crises: A Prospective Intervention Study in Niger 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(9):e1001714.
Céline Langendorf and colleagues conducted a pragmatic intervention study in Niger to assess whether distributions of supplementary foods in addition to household support by cash transfer effectively reduced malnutrition in children aged 6 to 23 months.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Finding the most appropriate strategy for the prevention of moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) and severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in young children is essential in countries like Niger with annual “hunger gaps.” Options for large-scale prevention include distribution of supplementary foods, such as fortified-blended foods or lipid-based nutrient supplements (LNSs) with or without household support (cash or food transfer). To date, there has been no direct controlled comparison between these strategies leading to debate concerning their effectiveness. We compared the effectiveness of seven preventive strategies—including distribution of nutritious supplementary foods, with or without additional household support (family food ration or cash transfer), and cash transfer only—on the incidence of SAM and MAM among children aged 6–23 months over a 5-month period, partly overlapping the hunger gap, in Maradi region, Niger. We hypothesized that distributions of supplementary foods would more effectively reduce the incidence of acute malnutrition than distributions of household support by cash transfer.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a prospective intervention study in 48 rural villages located within 15 km of a health center supported by Forum Santé Niger (FORSANI)/Médecins Sans Frontières in Madarounfa. Seven groups of villages (five to 11 villages) were allocated to different strategies of monthly distributions targeting households including at least one child measuring 60 cm–80 cm (at any time during the study period whatever their nutritional status): three groups received high-quantity LNS (HQ-LNS) or medium-quantity LNS (MQ-LNS) or Super Cereal Plus (SC+) with cash (€38/month [US$52/month]); one group received SC+ and family food ration; two groups received HQ-LNS or SC+ only; one group received cash only (€43/month [US$59/month]). Children 60 cm–80 cm of participating households were assessed at each monthly distribution from August to December 2011. Primary endpoints were SAM (weight-for-length Z-score [WLZ]<−3 and/or mid-upper arm circumference [MUAC]<11.5 cm and/or bipedal edema) and MAM (−3≤WLZ<−2 and/or 11.5≤MUAC<12.5 cm). A total of 5,395 children were included in the analysis (615 to 1,054 per group). Incidence of MAM was twice lower in the strategies receiving a food supplement combined with cash compared with the cash-only strategy (cash versus HQ-LNS/cash adjusted hazard ratio [HR] = 2.30, 95% CI 1.60–3.29; cash versus SC+/cash HR = 2.42, 95% CI 1.39–4.21; cash versus MQ-LNS/cash HR = 2.07, 95% CI 1.52–2.83) or with the supplementary food only groups (HQ-LNS versus HQ-LNS/cash HR = 1.84, 95% CI 1.35–2.51; SC+ versus SC+/cash HR = 2.53, 95% CI 1.47–4.35). In addition, the incidence of SAM was three times lower in the SC+/cash group compared with the SC+ only group (SC+ only versus SC+/cash HR = 3.13, 95% CI 1.65–5.94). However, non-quantified differences between groups, may limit the interpretation of the impact of the strategies.
Conclusions
Preventive distributions combining a supplementary food and cash transfer had a better preventive effect on MAM and SAM than strategies relying on cash transfer or supplementary food alone. As a result, distribution of nutritious supplementary foods to young children in conjunction with household support should remain a pillar of emergency nutritional interventions. Additional rigorous research is vital to evaluate the effectiveness of these and other nutritional interventions in diverse settings.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01828814
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Good nutrition during childhood is essential for health and survival. Undernourished children are more susceptible to infection and are more likely to die from common ailments such as diarrhoea than well-nourished children. Malnutrition can be chronic or acute. Chronic (long-term) malnutrition causes stunting. A stunted child has a low height for his or her age when compared to the World Health Organization Child Growth Standards, which chart the growth of a reference population. By contrast, acute malnutrition causes wasting. A wasted child has a low weight for his or her height. Acute malnutrition, which is responsible for more than 800,000 deaths among children under 5 years old every year (12.6% of all deaths in this age group), often follows earthquakes or other emergencies but also occurs in countries such as Niger that regularly experience a “hunger gap,” a shortage of food in the months before the annual harvest. Interventions designed to prevent acute malnutrition include distributions of supplementary food such as lipid-based nutrient supplements (LNS) and fortified cereal products (for example, super cereal plus [SC+]) targeting children and household support in the form of food or cash transfers, which allow households to buy their own food.
Why Was This Study Done?
Governments and donor agencies need to know which preventative strategy is most effective, particularly among children under 2 years old who are most vulnerable to acute malnutrition. Here, the researchers compare the effectiveness of seven preventative strategies—including the distribution of nutritious supplementary foods with and without additional household support (food or cash transfer) and cash transfer alone—on the incidence (occurrence) of moderate and severe acute malnutrition among children aged 6–23 months living in 48 villages in the Madarounfa district of Niger between August and December, 2011. Niger regularly experiences a hunger gap between June and October; 12.9% of the population of the Madarounfa district was at risk of severe food insecurity at the time of the study.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers allocated the villages to receive high or medium quantity LNS plus cash, SC+ plus cash or a family food ration, high quantity LNS only, SC+ only, or cash only; the cash transfer was sufficient to meet the energy needs of an average household. The interventions were distributed once a month to households that included at least one child measuring 60–80 cm in length at any time during the study period (length is used as a proxy for age when the precise age of children is unknown). Eligible children in each participating household were assessed for moderate and severe acute malnutrition as defined by the World Health Organization by measuring their weight, length, and mid-upper arm circumference at each distribution. The incidence of moderate acute malnutrition was about twice as high among children who received the cash-only intervention as among those who received any of the food supplement plus cash. For example, the incidence of moderate acute malnutrition was 3.33 cases per 100 child-months among children who received the SC+ plus cash intervention but 7.97 cases per 100 child-months among those who received the cash-only intervention. Moreover, the incidence of severe acute malnutrition was about three times higher among the children who received the SC+ only intervention than among those who received the SC+ plus cash intervention.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, in this region of Niger, interventions that combined the distribution of supplementary food and a cash transfer prevented acute malnutrition more effectively than strategies that relied on cash transfer or supplementary food distribution alone. Unmeasured differences between the groups that affect the incidence of malnutrition may be responsible for some of the differences between intervention groups, and the incidences of malnutrition may have been different if the study period had covered the whole hunger gap. Moreover, these findings may not be generalizable to other regions of Niger or to other countries that experience an annual hunger gap. Despite these limitations, which highlight the need for further research into the effectiveness of nutritional interventions, these findings suggest that the distribution of supplementary foods to young children in conjunction with household support should remain an important part of nutritional interventions during the hunger gap and other emergencies.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001714.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Marco Kerac and Andrew Seal
More information about this prospective intervention study is available from ClinicalTrials.gov
The charity UNICEF, which protects the rights of children and young people around the world, provides detailed statistics on child undernutrition; it has detailed information about malnutrition and the humanitarian situation in Niger; a 2012 article on malnutrition among children in Niger includes a personal story about a child with severe acute malnutrition in Maradi
The World Health Organization Child Growth Standards are available (in several languages)
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals provides information on ongoing world efforts to reduce hunger and child mortality
The World Food Programme is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide; its website provides information about malnutrition in Niger, including a visual presentation on wide-scale targeted food distribution in the country
“Starved for Attention” is an international multimedia campaign launched in 2010 by Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) and the VII Photo agency to rewrite the story of childhood malnutrition; information about MSF's work in Niger to tackle malnutrition is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001714
PMCID: PMC4152259  PMID: 25180584
5.  The Effect of India's Total Sanitation Campaign on Defecation Behaviors and Child Health in Rural Madhya Pradesh: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(8):e1001709.
Sumeet Patil and colleagues conduct a cluster randomized controlled trial to measure the effect of India's Total Sanitation Campaign in Madhya Pradesh on the availability of individual household latrines, defecation behaviors, and child health.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Poor sanitation is thought to be a major cause of enteric infections among young children. However, there are no previously published randomized trials to measure the health impacts of large-scale sanitation programs. India's Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) is one such program that seeks to end the practice of open defecation by changing social norms and behaviors, and providing technical support and financial subsidies. The objective of this study was to measure the effect of the TSC implemented with capacity building support from the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program in Madhya Pradesh on availability of individual household latrines (IHLs), defecation behaviors, and child health (diarrhea, highly credible gastrointestinal illness [HCGI], parasitic infections, anemia, growth).
Methods and Findings
We conducted a cluster-randomized, controlled trial in 80 rural villages. Field staff collected baseline measures of sanitation conditions, behaviors, and child health (May–July 2009), and revisited households 21 months later (February–April 2011) after the program was delivered. The study enrolled a random sample of 5,209 children <5 years old from 3,039 households that had at least one child <24 months at the beginning of the study. A random subsample of 1,150 children <24 months at enrollment were tested for soil transmitted helminth and protozoan infections in stool. The randomization successfully balanced intervention and control groups, and we estimated differences between groups in an intention to treat analysis. The intervention increased percentage of households in a village with improved sanitation facilities as defined by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme by an average of 19% (95% CI for difference: 12%–26%; group means: 22% control versus 41% intervention), decreased open defecation among adults by an average of 10% (95% CI for difference: 4%–15%; group means: 73% intervention versus 84% control). However, the intervention did not improve child health measured in terms of multiple health outcomes (diarrhea, HCGI, helminth infections, anemia, growth). Limitations of the study included a relatively short follow-up period following implementation, evidence for contamination in ten of the 40 control villages, and bias possible in self-reported outcomes for diarrhea, HCGI, and open defecation behaviors.
Conclusions
The intervention led to modest increases in availability of IHLs and even more modest reductions in open defecation. These improvements were insufficient to improve child health outcomes (diarrhea, HCGI, parasite infection, anemia, growth). The results underscore the difficulty of achieving adequately large improvements in sanitation levels to deliver expected health benefits within large-scale rural sanitation programs.
Trial Registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01465204
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Diarrheal diseases are linked with the deaths of hundreds of thousands of young children each year in resource-limited countries. Infection with enteric pathogens (organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites that infect the human intestine or gut) also affects the health and growth of many young children in these countries. A major contributor to the transmission of enteric pathogens is thought to be open defecation, which can expose individuals to direct contact with human feces containing infectious pathogens and also contaminate food and drinking water. Open defecation can be reduced by ensuring that people have access to and use toilets or latrines. Consequently, programs have been initiated in many resource-limited countries that aim to reduce open defecation by changing behaviors and by providing technical and financial support to help households build improved latrines (facilities that prevent human feces from re-entering the environment such as pit latrines with sealed squat plates; an example of an unimproved facility is a simple open hole). However, in 2011, according to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, more than 1 billion people (15% of the global population) still defecated in the open.
Why Was This Study Done?
Studies of sewerage system provision in urban areas suggest that interventions that prevent human feces entering the environment reduce diarrheal diseases. However, little is known about how rural sanitation programs, which usually focus on providing stand-alone sanitation facilities, affect diarrheal disease, intestinal parasite infections, anemia (which can be caused by parasite infections), or growth in young children. Governments and international donors need to know whether large-scale rural sanitation programs improve child health before expending further resources on these interventions or to identify an urgency to improve the existing program design or implementation so that they deliver the health impact. In this study, the researchers investigate the effect of India's Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) on the availability of individual household latrines, defecation behaviors, and child health in rural Madhya Pradesh, one of India's less developed states. Sixty percent of people who practice open defection live in India and a quarter of global child deaths from diarrheal diseases occur in the country. India's TSC, which was initiated in 1999, includes activities designed to change social norms and behaviors and provides technical and financial support for latrine building. So far there are no published studies that rigorously evaluated whether the TSC improved child health or not.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
A cluster randomized controlled trial randomly assigns groups of people to receive the intervention under study and compares the outcomes with a control group that does not receive the intervention. The researchers enrolled 5,209 children aged under 5 years old living in 3,039 households in 80 rural villages in Madhya Pradesh. Half of the villages (40), chosen at random, were included in the TSC (the intervention). Field staff collected data on sanitation conditions, defecation behaviors, and child health from caregivers in each household at the start of the study and after the TSC implementation was over in the intervention villages. A random subsample of children was also tested for infection with enteric parasites. The intervention increased the percentage of households in a village with improved sanitation facilities by 19% on average. Specifically, 41% of households in the intervention villages had improved latrines on average compared to 22% of households in the control villages. The intervention also decreased the proportion of adults who self-reported open defecation from 84% to 73%. However, the intervention did not improve child health measured on the basis of multiple health outcomes, including the prevalence of gastrointestinal illnesses and intestinal parasite infections, and growth.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that in rural Madhya Pradesh, the TSC implemented with support from the WSP only slightly increased the availability of individual household latrines and only slightly decreased the practice of open defecation. Importantly, these findings show that these modest improvements in sanitation and in defecation behaviors were insufficient to improve health outcomes among children. The accuracy of these findings may be limited by various aspects of the study. For example, several control villages actually received the intervention, which means that these findings probably underestimate the effect of the intervention under perfect conditions. Self-reporting of defecation behavior, availability of sanitation facilities, and gastrointestinal illnesses among children may also have biased these findings. Finally, because TSC implementation varies widely across India, these findings may not apply to other Indian states or variations in the TSC implementation strategies. Overall, however, these findings highlight the challenges associated with achieving large enough improvement in access to sanitation and correspondingly large reductions in the practice of open defecation to deliver health benefits within large-scale rural sanitation programs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001709.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Clarissa Brocklehurst
A PLOS Medicine Collection on water and sanitation is available
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information on water, sanitation, and health (in several languages), on diarrhea (in several languages), and on intestinal parasites (accessed through WHO's web page on neglected tropical diseases); the 2009 WHO/UNICEF report “Diarrhea: why children are still dying and what can be done”, is available online for download
The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation monitors progress toward improved global sanitation; its 2014 update report is available online
The children's charity UNICEF, which protects the rights of children and young people around the world, provides information on water, sanitation, and hygiene, and on diarrhea (in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001709
PMCID: PMC4144850  PMID: 25157929
6.  Multiple Chlamydiaceae Species in Trachoma: Implications for Disease Pathogenesis and Control 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(1):e14.
Background
Chlamydia trachomatis is a unique obligate intracellular bacterium that remains the leading cause of sexually transmitted bacterial diseases and preventable blindness worldwide. Chronic ocular infections are referred to as trachoma, and predominate in developing countries. Since 2001, the World Health Organization has promoted control strategies including antibiotics, improved hygiene, and environmental measures with limited success. Consequently, a vaccine is urgently needed. Integral to vaccine design is an understanding of the interactions of the pathogen and host immune response. Various animal models of trachoma show that urogenital C. trachomatis strains and other species of the family Chlamydiaceae produce severe conjunctival inflammation and scarring similar to that of the ocular C. trachomatis strains. However, we do not know the extent of organisms that may be involved in human trachoma. Furthermore, C. trachomatis heat shock protein 60 (Hsp60) has been implicated in inflammation and conjunctival scarring but the role of other Chlamydiaceae Hsp60 in disease pathogenesis has not been examined. In this study, we set out to identify whether other Chlamydiaceae species are present in trachoma, and determine their association with severity of clinical disease and with mucosal and systemic immune responses to Chlamydiaceae species-specific Hsp60 to further investigate the immunopathogenesis of this blinding disease.
Methods and Findings
We randomly selected nine of 49 households in a trachoma-endemic region of Nepal. Trachoma was graded, and real-time, quantitative (k)PCR was used to detect genomic DNA and cDNA (from RNA) for Chlamydiaceae ompA and 16S rRNA genes, respectively, from conjunctival swabs. IgG antibody responses to recombinant (r) Chlamydiaceae species-specific Hsp60 were determined for tears and sera. Surprisingly, all three species—C. trachomatis, Chlamydophila psittaci, and Chlamydophila pneumoniae—were detected in eight (89%) study households; one household had no members infected with C. pneumoniae. Of 80 (63%; n = 127) infected individuals, 28 (35%) had infection with C. psittaci, or C. pneumoniae, or both; single and dual infections with C. psittaci and C. pneumoniae were significantly associated with severe conjunctival inflammation (OR 4.25 [95% confidence interval (CI), 2.9–11.3], p = 0.009] as were single infections with C. trachomatis (OR 5.7 [95% CI, 3.8–10.1], p = 0.002). Of the 80 infected individuals, 75 (93.8%) were also positive for 16S rRNA by kPCR for the same organism identified by ompA. Individuals with tear IgG immunoreactivity to Chlamydiaceae rHsp60 were eight times more likely than individuals without tear immunoreactivity to be infected (95% CI 6.4–15.1; p = 0.003), 6.2 times more likely to have severe inflammation (95% CI 4.4–12.6; p = 0.001), and 5.7 times more likely to have scarring (95% CI 3.9–11.1; p = 0.019) while individuals with serum IgG immunoreactivity were 4.1 times more likely to be infected (95% CI 3.1–10.1; p = 0.014).
Conclusions
We provide substantial evidence for the involvement of C. psittaci and C. pneumoniae, in addition to C. trachomatis, in trachoma. The distribution of Chlamydiaceae species by household and age suggests that these infections are widespread and not just sporadic occurrences. Infection with multiple species may explain the failure to detect chlamydiae among active trachoma cases, when only C. trachomatis is assayed for, and the failure of clinically active cases to resolve their disease following what would be considered effective C. trachomatis treatment. The evidence for viable (RNA-positive) organisms of all three species in single and coinfections, the significant association of these infections with severe inflammation, and the significant association of tear and serum IgG responses to Chlamydiaceae Hsp60 with inflammation and scarring, support the role of all three species in disease pathogenesis. Thus, while our findings should be confirmed in other trachoma-endemic countries, our data suggest that a reevaluation of treatment regimens and vaccine design may be required. Understanding the full impact of Chlamydiaceae species on the epidemiology, immunopathology, and disease outcome of trachoma presents a new challenge for Chlamydiaceae research.
In a study of trachoma cases within households in Nepal, Deborah Dean and colleagues find involvement of the Chlamydia species C. psittaci and C. pneumoniae in addition to C. trachomatis.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Six million people—most of whom live in crowded, unhygienic conditions in developing countries—are blind because of an infectious disease called trachoma. It is generally accepted that trachoma is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, bacteria that pass easily between people on hands and clothing. Infection usually occurs first during childhood, but people do not become blind until adulthood. Successive infections cause progressive scarring of the inside of the eyelid. Eventually, the eyelashes turn inward and rub painfully over the front of the eye (the cornea). This causes corneal scarring, loss of corneal transparency and, finally, irreversible blindness. C. trachomatis infections can be prevented by improving personal hygiene (in particular, facial cleanliness in children) and by reducing fly breeding sites, and they can be treated with antibiotics. However, C. trachomatis and other organisms appear to be developing drug resistance to antibiotics commonly used to treat these infections. In addition, early scarring and in-turned eyelashes can be treated surgically, although recurrence of the in-turned eyelashes frequently occurs months to years after surgery.
Why Was This Study Done?
The World Health Organization has been promoting these “SAFE” interventions (surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness, and environmental improvement) since 2001 with the aim of eliminating trachoma by 2020. However, these control measures have had limited success so far and it looks like a vaccine may also be needed. To develop an effective vaccine, scientists need to know whether all cases of human trachoma are caused by so-called ocular strains of C. trachomatis. Might C. trachomatis strains that are usually associated with sexually transmitted disease (urogenital strains) or different species in the family Chlamydiaceae also cause human trachoma as work in animals has suggested? In this study, the researchers have investigated which Chlamydiaceae species are associated with trachoma in a region of Nepal where the disease is endemic (always present).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers examined all the members for trachoma in nine randomly selected households in a Nepali village. They then used sensitive molecular biology methods to identify the species in the family Chlamydiaceae and strains present in the eyes of the infected individuals. One third of them were infected with only C. trachomatis (mainly ocular strains but also some urogenital strains), one in five were infected with only Chlamydophila psittaci, and one in ten with only Chlamydophila pneumoniae. The other infected individuals had mixed infections. Infection with C. psittaci and/or C. pneumoniae was strongly associated with severe eye inflammation as was infection with C. trachomatis alone. The researchers also asked whether there were any antibodies (proteins made by the immune system that recognize infectious organisms) in the tears or blood of the infected individuals that recognized the Hsp60 protein of each Chlamydiaceae species; an immune response to C. trachomatis Hsp60 is thought to be involved in the inflammation and scarring seen in trachoma. Individuals with antibodies in their tears to Chlamydiaceae Hsp60, the researchers report, were eight times as likely to be actively infected with these bacteria and six times as likely to have severe eye inflammation as individuals without the antibodies.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide evidence for the widespread involvement of C. psittaci, C. pneumoniae, and urogenital strains of C. trachomatis as well as ocular strains of C. trachomatis in trachoma and might explain why some people with active trachoma do not have C. trachomatis in their eye secretions and why antibiotics that kill C. trachomatis effectively do not cure all cases of trachoma. However, because live bacteria were not isolated from patients and shown to cause disease in a model system, these findings do not prove that Chlamydiaceae other than C. trachomatis cause trachoma. Some or all of the bacterial strains and species detected in this study may be innocent bystanders although the strong association between their presence and severe inflammation and the association between antibody responses to Chlamydiaceae Hsp60 and inflammation argues against this possibility. If the involvement of multiple Chlamydiaceae strains and species is confirmed and extended in other trachoma-endemic regions, then future antimicrobial therapies and vaccines will need to deal with all these bacteria and not just C. trachomatis.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050014.
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on trachoma (in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information on trachoma (mainly in English but some information is available in French, Russian, and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a technical fact sheet on trachoma
The charity Sightsavers International also provides information on trachoma and global efforts to eliminate the disease
The Carter Center provides an overview of trachoma control and a description of its trachoma control program
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050014
PMCID: PMC2174965  PMID: 18177205
7.  Government health insurance for people below poverty line in India: quasi-experimental evaluation of insurance and health outcomes 
Objectives To evaluate the effects of a government insurance program covering tertiary care for people below the poverty line in Karnataka, India, on out-of-pocket expenditures, hospital use, and mortality.
Design Geographic regression discontinuity study.
Setting 572 villages in Karnataka, India.
Participants 31 476 households (22 796 below poverty line and 8680 above poverty line) in 300 villages where the scheme was implemented and 28 633 households (21 767 below poverty line and 6866 above poverty line) in 272 neighboring matched villages ineligible for the scheme.
Intervention A government insurance program (Vajpayee Arogyashree scheme) that provided free tertiary care to households below the poverty line in about half of villages in Karnataka from February 2010 to August 2012.
Main outcome measure Out-of-pocket expenditures, hospital use, and mortality.
Results Among households below the poverty line, the mortality rate from conditions potentially responsive to services covered by the scheme (mostly cardiac conditions and cancer) was 0.32% in households eligible for the scheme compared with 0.90% among ineligible households just south of the eligibility border (difference of 0.58 percentage points, 95% confidence interval 0.40 to 0.75; P<0.001). We found no difference in mortality rates for households above the poverty line (households above the poverty line were not eligible for the scheme), with a mortality rate from conditions covered by the scheme of 0.56% in eligible villages compared with 0.55% in ineligible villages (difference of 0.01 percentage points, −0.03 to 0.03; P=0.95). Eligible households had significantly reduced out-of-pocket health expenditures for admissions to hospitals with tertiary care facilities likely to be covered by the scheme (64% reduction, 35% to 97%; P<0.001). There was no significant increase in use of covered services, although the point estimate of a 44.2% increase approached significance (−5.1% to 90.5%; P=0.059). Both reductions in out-of-pocket expenditures and potential increases in use might have contributed to the observed reductions in mortality.
Conclusions Insuring poor households for efficacious but costly and underused health services significantly improves population health in India.
doi:10.1136/bmj.g5114
PMCID: PMC4161676  PMID: 25214509
8.  Indoor Residual Spraying in Combination with Insecticide-Treated Nets Compared to Insecticide-Treated Nets Alone for Protection against Malaria: A Cluster Randomised Trial in Tanzania 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(4):e1001630.
Philippa West and colleagues compare Plasmodium falciparum infection prevalence in children, anemia in young children, and entomological inoculation rate between study arms.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS) of houses provide effective malaria transmission control. There is conflicting evidence about whether it is more beneficial to provide both interventions in combination. A cluster randomised controlled trial was conducted to investigate whether the combination provides added protection compared to ITNs alone.
Methods and Findings
In northwest Tanzania, 50 clusters (village areas) were randomly allocated to ITNs only or ITNs and IRS. Dwellings in the ITN+IRS arm were sprayed with two rounds of bendiocarb in 2012. Plasmodium falciparum prevalence rate (PfPR) in children 0.5–14 y old (primary outcome) and anaemia in children <5 y old (secondary outcome) were compared between study arms using three cross-sectional household surveys in 2012. Entomological inoculation rate (secondary outcome) was compared between study arms.
IRS coverage was approximately 90%. ITN use ranged from 36% to 50%. In intention-to-treat analysis, mean PfPR was 13% in the ITN+IRS arm and 26% in the ITN only arm, odds ratio = 0.43 (95% CI 0.19–0.97, n = 13,146). The strongest effect was observed in the peak transmission season, 6 mo after the first IRS. Subgroup analysis showed that ITN users were additionally protected if their houses were sprayed. Mean monthly entomological inoculation rate was non-significantly lower in the ITN+IRS arm than in the ITN only arm, rate ratio = 0.17 (95% CI 0.03–1.08).
Conclusions
This is the first randomised trial to our knowledge that reports significant added protection from combining IRS and ITNs compared to ITNs alone. The effect is likely to be attributable to IRS providing added protection to ITN users as well as compensating for inadequate ITN use. Policy makers should consider deploying IRS in combination with ITNs to control transmission if local ITN strategies on their own are insufficiently effective. Given the uncertain generalisability of these findings, it would be prudent for malaria control programmes to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of deploying the combination.
Trial registration
www.ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01697852
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, more than 200 million cases of malaria occur worldwide, and more than 600,000 people, mainly children living in sub-Saharan Africa, die from this parasitic infection. Malaria parasites, which are transmitted to people through the bites of infected night-flying mosquitoes, cause a characteristic fever that needs to be treated promptly with antimalarial drugs to prevent anaemia (a reduction in red blood cell numbers) and organ damage. Prompt treatment also helps to reduce malaria transmission, but the mainstays of global malaria control efforts are the provision of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) for people to sleep under to avoid mosquito bites, and indoor residual spraying (IRS) of houses with insecticides, which prevents mosquitoes from resting in houses. Both approaches have been scaled up in the past decade. About 54% of households in Africa now own at least one ITN, and 8% of at-risk populations are protected by IRS. As a result of the widespread deployment of these preventative tools and the increased availability of effective antimalarial drugs, malaria-related deaths in Africa fell by 45% between 2000 and 2012.
Why Was This Study Done?
Some countries have chosen to use ITNs and IRS in combination, reasoning that this will increase the proportion of individuals who are protected by at least one intervention and may provide additional protection to people using both interventions rather than one alone. However, providing both interventions is costly, so it is important to know whether this rationale is correct. In this cluster randomised controlled trial (a study that compares outcomes of groups of people randomly assigned to receive different interventions) undertaken in the Muleba District of Tanzania during 2012, the researchers investigate whether ITNs plus IRS provide more protection against malaria than ITNs alone. Malaria transmission occurs throughout the year in Muleba District but peaks after the October–December and March–May rains. Ninety-one percent of the district's households own at least one ITN, and 58% of households own enough ITNs to cover all their sleeping places. Annual rounds of IRS have been conducted in the region since 2007.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers allocated 50 communities to the ITN intervention or to the ITN+IRS intervention. Dwellings allocated to ITN+IRS were sprayed with insecticide just before each of the malaria transmission peaks in 2012. The researchers used household surveys to collect information about ITN coverage in the study population, the proportion of children aged 0.5–14 years infected with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum (the prevalence of infection), and the proportion of children under five years old with anaemia. IRS coverage in the ITN+IRS arm was approximately 90%, and 50% of the children in both intervention arms used ITNs at the start of the trial, declining to 36% at the end of the study. In an intention-to-treat analysis (which assumed that all study participants got the planned intervention), the average prevalence of infection was 13% in the ITN+IRS arm and 26% in the ITN arm. A per-protocol analysis (which considered data only from participants who received their allocated intervention) indicated that the combined intervention had a statistically significant protective effect on the prevalence of infection compared to ITNs alone (an effect that is unlikely to have arisen by chance). Finally, the proportion of young children with anaemia was lower in the ITN+IRS arm than in the ITN arm, but this effect was not statistically significant.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide evidence that IRS, when used in combination with ITNs, can provide better protection against malaria infection than ITNs used alone. This effect is likely to be the result of IRS providing added protection to ITN users as well as compensating for inadequate ITN use. The findings also suggest that the combination of interventions may reduce the prevalence of anaemia better than ITNs alone, but this result needs to be confirmed. Additional trials are also needed to investigate whether ITN+IRS compared to ITN reduces clinical cases of malaria, and whether similar effects are seen in other settings. Moreover, the cost-effectiveness of ITN+IRS and ITN alone needs to be compared. For now, though, these findings suggest that national malaria control programs should consider implementing IRS in combination with ITNs if local ITN strategies alone are insufficiently effective and cannot be improved.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001630.
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in several languages), including information on insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor residual spraying; the World Malaria Report 2013 provides details of the current global malaria situation
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on malaria, on insecticide-treated bed nets, and on indoor residual spraying; it also provides a selection of personal stories about malaria
Information is available from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on the global control of malaria and on the Global Malaria Action Plan (in English and French); its website includes fact sheets about malaria in Africa and about nets and insecticides
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001630
PMCID: PMC3988001  PMID: 24736370
9.  Visceral Leishmaniasis Elimination Programme in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal: Reshaping the Case Finding/Case Management Strategy 
Objective
We sought to estimate visceral leishmaniasis (VL) burden in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal and document care-seeking behaviour for VL to provide baseline information for monitoring the VL elimination program and identify options for improved case finding and management.
Design
A cross-sectional study using cluster sampling (clusters being villages) of 4 VL endemic districts was used in order to document all current and existing VL cases over the preceding 12 mo. Extended (in-depth) interviews were conducted in a subsample of households to explore (a) VL-related knowledge, attitudes, and practices of the population; (b) use of VL care by patients; and (c) delay between onset of symptoms, diagnosis, and start of treatment, as well as treatment interruption. Findings were discussed with national program managers and policy makers to develop improved strategies.
Results
Screening for VL was done in 18,933 households (106,425 inhabitants). The estimated annual incidence of VL in the endemic districts was on average 22 times higher than the elimination target of less than one case per 10,000 inhabitants in 2015. This incidence varied widely between study sites, from 9.0 to 29.8 per 10,000 inhabitants. The percentage of newly detected cases through the household screening was high in the districts least covered by health-care services (particularly Rajshahi, Bangladesh, 49%; and to a lesser extent Vaishali in Bihar, India, 32.5%), and much lower in districts with greater availability of VL care (Muzaffarpur, India, 3.8%). On average 267 houses had to be visited, i.e., at least three to four working days per health worker, to identify a new VL (ranging from 1,432 houses in Muzaffarpur, India to only 166 houses in Rajshahi, Bangladesh). Knowledge of the disease and its vectors was good in India and Nepal but poor in Bangladesh (Rajshahi) where very little attention has been given to VL over the last decades. Although all socio-demographic indicators showed high levels of poverty, people in India preferred private medical practitioners for the treatment of VL, whereas in Nepal, and even more in Bangladesh, the public health-care sector was preferred. Delays between onset of symptoms and diagnosis as well as start of treatment was high. Reported non-adherence to treatment was particularly high in the more under-served districts and was mainly due to lack of resources.
Discussion
The findings suggest that (a) house-to-house screening may be useful in highly endemic districts with a poor passive case detection system, but further evidence on case finding adapted to local conditions has to be collected; (b) strengthening the quality of the public health sector is imperative in the three countries, especially in India, with its largely unregulated private-sector provision of VL care.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000355
PMCID: PMC2607537  PMID: 19159009
10.  Measuring Adult Mortality Using Sibling Survival: A New Analytical Method and New Results for 44 Countries, 1974–2006 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(4):e1000260.
Julie Rajaratnam and colleagues describe a novel method, called the Corrected Sibling Survival method, to measure adult mortality in countries without good vital registration by use of histories taken from surviving siblings.
Background
For several decades, global public health efforts have focused on the development and application of disease control programs to improve child survival in developing populations. The need to reliably monitor the impact of such intervention programs in countries has led to significant advances in demographic methods and data sources, particularly with large-scale, cross-national survey programs such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). Although no comparable effort has been undertaken for adult mortality, the availability of large datasets with information on adult survival from censuses and household surveys offers an important opportunity to dramatically improve our knowledge about levels and trends in adult mortality in countries without good vital registration. To date, attempts to measure adult mortality from questions in censuses and surveys have generally led to implausibly low levels of adult mortality owing to biases inherent in survey data such as survival and recall bias. Recent methodological developments and the increasing availability of large surveys with information on sibling survival suggest that it may well be timely to reassess the pessimism that has prevailed around the use of sibling histories to measure adult mortality.
Methods and Findings
We present the Corrected Sibling Survival (CSS) method, which addresses both the survival and recall biases that have plagued the use of survey data to estimate adult mortality. Using logistic regression, our method directly estimates the probability of dying in a given country, by age, sex, and time period from sibling history data. The logistic regression framework borrows strength across surveys and time periods for the estimation of the age patterns of mortality, and facilitates the implementation of solutions for the underrepresentation of high-mortality families and recall bias. We apply the method to generate estimates of and trends in adult mortality, using the summary measure 45q15—the probability of a 15-y old dying before his or her 60th birthday—for 44 countries with DHS sibling survival data. Our findings suggest that levels of adult mortality prevailing in many developing countries are substantially higher than previously suggested by other analyses of sibling history data. Generally, our estimates show the risk of adult death between ages 15 and 60 y to be about 20%–35% for females and 25%–45% for males in sub-Saharan African populations largely unaffected by HIV. In countries of Southern Africa, where the HIV epidemic has been most pronounced, as many as eight out of ten men alive at age 15 y will be dead by age 60, as will six out of ten women. Adult mortality levels in populations of Asia and Latin America are generally lower than in Africa, particularly for women. The exceptions are Haiti and Cambodia, where mortality risks are comparable to many countries in Africa. In all other countries with data, the probability of dying between ages 15 and 60 y was typically around 10% for women and 20% for men, not much higher than the levels prevailing in several more developed countries.
Conclusions
Our results represent an expansion of direct knowledge of levels and trends in adult mortality in the developing world. The CSS method provides grounds for renewed optimism in collecting sibling survival data. We suggest that all nationally representative survey programs with adequate sample size ought to implement this critical module for tracking adult mortality in order to more reliably understand the levels and patterns of adult mortality, and how they are changing.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Governments and international health agencies need accurate information on births and deaths in populations to help them plan health care policies and monitor the effectiveness of public-health programs designed, for example, to prevent premature deaths from preventable causes such as tobacco smoking. In developed countries, full information on births and deaths is recorded in “vital registration systems.” Unfortunately, very few developing countries have complete vital registration systems. In most African countries, for example, less than one-quarter of deaths are counted through vital registration systems. To fill this information gap, scientists have developed several methods to estimate mortality levels (the proportion of deaths in populations) and trends in mortality (how the proportion of deaths in populations changes over time) from data collected in household surveys and censuses. A household survey collects data about family members (for example, number, age, and sex) for a national sample of households randomly selected from a list of households collected in a census (a periodic count of a population).
Why Was This Study Done?
To date, global public-health efforts have concentrated on improving child survival. Consequently, methods for calculating child mortality levels and trends from surveys are well-developed and generally yield accurate estimates. By contrast, although attempts have been made to measure adult mortality using sibling survival histories (records of the sex, age if alive, or age at death, if dead, of all the children born to survey respondents' mothers that are collected in many household surveys), these attempts have often produced implausibly low estimates of adult mortality. These low estimates arise because people do not always recall deaths accurately when questioned (recall bias) and because families that have fallen apart, possibly because of family deaths, are underrepresented in household surveys (selection bias). In this study, the researchers develop a corrected sibling survival (CSS) method that addresses the problems of selection and recall bias and use their method to estimate mortality levels and trends in 44 developing countries between 1974 and 2006.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a statistical approach called logistic regression to develop the CSS method. They then used the method to estimate the probability of a 15-year-old dying before his or her 60th birthday from sibling survival data collected by the Demographic and Health Surveys program (DHS, a project started in 1984 to help developing countries collect data on population and health trends). Levels of adult mortality estimated in this way were considerably higher than those suggested by previous analyses of sibling history data. For example, the risk of adult death between the ages of 15 and 60 years was 20%–35% for women and 25%–45% for men living in sub-Saharan African countries largely unaffected by HIV and 60% for women and 80% for men living in countries in Southern Africa where the HIV epidemic is worst. Importantly, the researchers show that their mortality level estimates compare well to those obtained from vital registration data and other data sources where available. So, for example, in the Philippines, adult mortality levels estimated using the CSS method were similar to those obtained from vital registration data. Finally, the researchers used the CSS method to estimate mortality trends. These calculations reveal, for example, that there has been a 3–4-fold increase in adult mortality since the late 1980s in Zimbabwe, a country badly affected by the HIV epidemic.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the CSS method, which applies a correction for both selection and recall bias, yields more accurate estimates of adult mortality in developing countries from sibling survival data than previous methods. Given their findings, the researchers suggest that sibling survival histories should be routinely collected in all future household survey programs and, if possible, these surveys should be expanded so that all respondents are asked about sibling histories—currently the DHS only collects sibling histories from women aged 15–49 years. Widespread collection of such data and their analysis using the CSS method, the researchers conclude, would help governments and international agencies track trends in adult mortality and progress toward major health and development targets.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000260.
This study and two related PLoS Medicine Research Articles by Rajaratnam et al. and by Murray et al. are further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Mathers and Boerma
Information is available about the Demographic and Health Surveys
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation makes available high-quality information on population health, its determinants, and the performance of health systems
Grand Challenges in Global Health provides information on research into better ways for developing countries to measure their health status
The World Health Organization Statistical Information System (WHOSIS) is an interactive database that brings together core health statistics for WHO member states, including information on vital registration of deaths; the WHO Health Metrics Network is a global collaboration focused on improving sources of vital statistics
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000260
PMCID: PMC2854132  PMID: 20405004
11.  Geographical Inequalities in Use of Improved Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation across Sub-Saharan Africa: Mapping and Spatial Analysis of Cross-sectional Survey Data 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(4):e1001626.
Using cross-sectional survey data, Rachel Pullan and colleagues map geographical inequalities in use of improved drinking water supply and sanitation across sub-Saharan Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Understanding geographic inequalities in coverage of drinking-water supply and sanitation (WSS) will help track progress towards universal coverage of water and sanitation by identifying marginalized populations, thus helping to control a large number of infectious diseases. This paper uses household survey data to develop comprehensive maps of WSS coverage at high spatial resolution for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Analysis is extended to investigate geographic heterogeneity and relative geographic inequality within countries.
Methods and Findings
Cluster-level data on household reported use of improved drinking-water supply, sanitation, and open defecation were abstracted from 138 national surveys undertaken from 1991–2012 in 41 countries. Spatially explicit logistic regression models were developed and fitted within a Bayesian framework, and used to predict coverage at the second administrative level (admin2, e.g., district) across SSA for 2012. Results reveal substantial geographical inequalities in predicted use of water and sanitation that exceed urban-rural disparities. The average range in coverage seen between admin2 within countries was 55% for improved drinking water, 54% for use of improved sanitation, and 59% for dependence upon open defecation. There was also some evidence that countries with higher levels of inequality relative to coverage in use of an improved drinking-water source also experienced higher levels of inequality in use of improved sanitation (rural populations r = 0.47, p = 0.002; urban populations r = 0.39, p = 0.01). Results are limited by the quantity of WSS data available, which varies considerably by country, and by the reliability and utility of available indicators.
Conclusions
This study identifies important geographic inequalities in use of WSS previously hidden within national statistics, confirming the necessity for targeted policies and metrics that reach the most marginalized populations. The presented maps and analysis approach can provide a mechanism for monitoring future reductions in inequality within countries, reflecting priorities of the post-2015 development agenda.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Access to a safe drinking-water supply (a water source that is protected from contamination) and to adequate sanitation facilities (toilets, improved latrines, and other facilities that prevent people coming into contact with human urine and feces) is essential for good health. Unimproved drinking-water sources and sanitation are responsible for 85% of deaths from diarrhea and 1% of the global burden of disease. They also increase the transmission of parasitic worms and other neglected tropical diseases. In 2000, world leaders set a target of reducing the proportion of the global population without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation to half of the 1990 level by 2015 as part of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 7 (“Ensure environmental sustainability”; the MDGs are designed to improve the social, economic, and health conditions in the world's poorest countries). Between 1990 and 2010, more than 2 billion people gained access to improved drinking-water sources and 1.8 billion gained access to improved sanitation. In 2011, 89% of the world's population had access to an improved drinking-water supply, 1% above the MDG target, and 64% had access to improved sanitation (the MDG target is 75%).
Why Was This Study Done?
Despite these encouraging figures, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) estimates that, globally, 768 million people relied on unimproved drinking-water sources, 2.5 billion people did not use an improved sanitation facility, and more than 1 billion people (15% of the global population) were defecating in the open in 2011. The JMP estimates for 2011 also reveal national and sub-national inequalities in drinking-water supply and sanitation coverage but a better understanding of geographic inequalities is needed to track progress towards universal coverage of access to improved water and sanitation and to identify the populations that need the most help to achieve this goal. Here, the researchers use cross-sectional household survey data and modern statistical approaches to produce a comprehensive map of the coverage of improved drinking-water supply and improved sanitation at high spatial resolution for sub-Saharan Africa and to investigate geographic inequalities in coverage. Cross-sectional household surveys collect health and other information from households at a single time-point, including data on use of safe water and improved sanitation.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers extracted data on reported household use of an improved drinking-water supply (for example, a piped water supply), improved sanitation facilities (for example, a flushing toilet), and open defecation from 138 national household surveys undertaken between 1991 and 2012 in 41 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They developed statistical models to fit these data and used the models to estimate coverage at the district (second administrative) level across sub-Saharan Africa for 2012. For ten countries, the estimated coverage of access to improved drinking water at the district level within individual countries ranged from less than 25% to more than 75%. Within-country ranges of a similar magnitude were estimated for coverage of access to improved sanitation (21 countries) and for open defecation (16 countries). Notably, rural households in the districts with the lowest coverage of access to improved water supply and sanitation within a country were 1.5–8 times less likely to access improved drinking water, 2–18 times less likely to access improved sanitation, and 2–80 times more likely to defecate in the open than rural households in districts with the best coverage. Finally, countries with high levels of inequality in improved drinking-water source coverage also experienced high levels of inequality in improved sanitation coverage.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings identify important geographic inequalities in the coverage of access to improved water sources and sanitation that were previously hidden within national statistics. The accuracy of these findings depends on the accuracy of the data on water supplies and sanitation provided by household surveys, on the researchers' definitions for improved water supplies and sanitation, and on their statistical methods. Nevertheless, these findings confirm that, to achieve universal coverage of access to improved drinking-water sources and sanitation, strategies that target the areas with the lowest coverage are essential. Moreover, the maps and the analytical approach presented here provide the means for monitoring future reductions in inequalities in the coverage of access to improved water sources and sanitation and thus reflect a major priority of the post-2015 development agenda.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001626.
A PLOS Medicine Collection on water and sanitation is available
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information on water, sanitation, and health (in several languages)
The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation is the official United Nations mechanism tasked with monitoring progress toward MDG7, Target 7B; the JMP 2013 update report is available online (also available in French and Spanish through the JMP website)
The sub-national predictions resulting from this study and the final sub-national maps are available as a resource for researchers and planners
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001626
PMCID: PMC3979660  PMID: 24714528
12.  Free distribution of insecticidal bed nets improves possession and preferential use by households and is equitable: findings from two cross-sectional surveys in thirteen malaria endemic districts of Bangladesh 
Malaria Journal  2011;10:357.
Background
BRAC, an indigenous non-governmental development organization (NGO), has been implementing a programme to prevent and control malaria in the 13 malaria-endemic districts of Bangladesh since 2007. One of the critical preventive interventions is the distribution of insecticidal bed nets (long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, LLINs and insecticide-treated ordinary nets, ITNs) to the community free of cost. This study aimed to assess progress in the possession, preferential use, and knowledge on use of the LLIN/ITNs including the programme's avowed pro-poor inclination one and three and half years after intervention began.
Methods
A convenient sampling strategy based on malaria endemicity in the districts was adopted. First, thirty upazila (sub-district, with a population around 250,000)s were selected at random, with high prevalent districts contributing more upazilas; second, from each upazila, one (2008) to two (2011) villages (covered by insecticidal bed net distribution programme) were selected. From each village, households that had either one under-five child and/or a pregnant woman were included in the survey, one household being included only once. Data were collected using a pre-tested structured questionnaire.
Results
In all, 3,760 households in 2008 and 7,895 households in 2011 were surveyed for collecting relevant information. Proportion of households with at least one LLIN, and at least one LLIN/ITN increased (22-59 to 62-67% and 22-64% to 74-76% respectively) over time, including increase in the mean number of LLIN/ITNs per household (≤ 1 to 1 +). The programme achieved > 80% coverage in sleeping under an LLIN/ITN in the case of under-five children and pregnant women, especially in the high-endemic districts. Knowledge regarding critical time of hanging the net also increased over time (7-22 to 44-54%), but remained low. The pro-poor inclination of the programme is reflected in the status of relevant indicators according to self-rated poverty status of the households.
Conclusions
There has been a substantial improvement in possession and usage of insecticidal bed nets especially for the two most vulnerable groups (under-five children and pregnant women), including a reduction of gaps between the high and low endemic districts, and the deficit and non-deficit households during the study period.
doi:10.1186/1475-2875-10-357
PMCID: PMC3266224  PMID: 22165959
Malaria; LLINs; ITNs; BRAC; Bangladesh
13.  The Influence of Distance and Level of Care on Delivery Place in Rural Zambia: A Study of Linked National Data in a Geographic Information System 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(1):e1000394.
Using linked national data in a geographic information system system, Sabine Gabrysch and colleagues investigate the effects of distance to care and level of care on women's use of health facilities for delivery in rural Zambia.
Background
Maternal and perinatal mortality could be reduced if all women delivered in settings where skilled attendants could provide emergency obstetric care (EmOC) if complications arise. Research on determinants of skilled attendance at delivery has focussed on household and individual factors, neglecting the influence of the health service environment, in part due to a lack of suitable data. The aim of this study was to quantify the effects of distance to care and level of care on women's use of health facilities for delivery in rural Zambia, and to compare their population impact to that of other important determinants.
Methods and Findings
Using a geographic information system (GIS), we linked national household data from the Zambian Demographic and Health Survey 2007 with national facility data from the Zambian Health Facility Census 2005 and calculated straight-line distances. Health facilities were classified by whether they provided comprehensive EmOC (CEmOC), basic EmOC (BEmOC), or limited or substandard services. Multivariable multilevel logistic regression analyses were performed to investigate the influence of distance to care and level of care on place of delivery (facility or home) for 3,682 rural births, controlling for a wide range of confounders. Only a third of rural Zambian births occurred at a health facility, and half of all births were to mothers living more than 25 km from a facility of BEmOC standard or better. As distance to the closest health facility doubled, the odds of facility delivery decreased by 29% (95% CI, 14%–40%). Independently, each step increase in level of care led to 26% higher odds of facility delivery (95% CI, 7%–48%). The population impact of poor geographic access to EmOC was at least of similar magnitude as that of low maternal education, household poverty, or lack of female autonomy.
Conclusions
Lack of geographic access to emergency obstetric care is a key factor explaining why most rural deliveries in Zambia still occur at home without skilled care. Addressing geographic and quality barriers is crucial to increase service use and to lower maternal and perinatal mortality. Linking datasets using GIS has great potential for future research and can help overcome the neglect of health system factors in research and policy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Approximately 360,000 women die each year in pregnancy and childbirth, of which more than 200,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, where a woman's lifetime risk of dying during or following pregnancy remains as high as 1 in 31 (compared to 1 in 4,300 in the developed world). The target of Millennium Development Goal 5 is to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters by 2015. Most maternal and neonatal deaths in low-income countries could be prevented if all women delivered their babies in settings where skilled birth attendants (such as midwives) were available and could provide emergency obstetric care to both mothers and babies in case of complications. Yet every year roughly 50 million women give birth at home without skilled care.
Why was this study done?
The likelihood of a woman giving birth in a health facility under the care of a skilled birth attendant depends on many factors. These include characteristics of the mother and her family, such as education level and household wealth, and aspects of the health service environment—distance to the nearest health facility and the quality of care provided at that facility, for example. However, research to date has typically focused on household and individual factors, neglecting the influence of the health service environment on choice of delivery place, largely because suitable data was not available. In this study in rural Zambia, the researchers aimed to quantify the effects of the health service environment, namely distance to health care and the level of care provided, on pregnant women's use of health facilities for giving birth. To put these factors in context, the researchers compared the impact of distance to quality care on place of delivery to that of other important factors, such as poverty and education.
What did the researchers do and find?
Using a geographic information system (GIS), the researchers linked national household data (from the 2007 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey) with national facility data (from the 2005 Zambian Health Facility Census) and calculated straight-line distances between women's villages and health facilities. Health facilities were classified as providing comprehensive emergency obstetric care, basic emergency obstetric care, or limited or substandard services by using reported capability to perform a certain number of the eight emergency obstetric care signal functions: injectable antibiotics, injectable oxytocics, injectable anticonvulsants, manual removal of placenta, manual removal of retained products, assisted vaginal delivery, cesarean section, and blood transfusion, as well as criteria on staffing, opening hours and referral capacity. The researchers used data from 3,682 rural births and multivariable multilevel logistic regression analyses to investigate whether distance to, and level of care at the closest delivery facility influence place of delivery (health facility or home), keeping other influential factors constant.
The researchers found that only a third of births in rural Zambia occurred at a health facility, and half of all mothers who gave birth lived more than 25 km from a health facility that provided basic emergency obstetric services. As distance to the closest health facility doubled, the odds of a women giving birth in a health facility decreased by 29%. Independently, each step increase in the level of emergency obstetric care provided at the closest delivery facility led to an increased likelihood (26% higher odds) of a woman delivering her baby at a facility. The researchers estimated that the impact of poor geographic access to emergency obstetric services was of similar magnitude as that of low maternal education, household poverty, or lack of female autonomy.
What do these findings mean?
The results of this study suggest that poor geographic access to emergency obstetric care is a key factor in explaining why most women in rural Zambia still deliver their babies at home without skilled care. Therefore, in order to increase the number of women delivering in health facilities and thus reduce maternal and neonatal mortality, it is crucial to address the geographic and quality barriers to delivery service use. Furthermore, the methodology used in this study—linking datasets using GIS— has great potential for future research as it can help explore the influence of health system factors also for other health problems.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000394.
Information about emergency obstetric care is provided by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Various topics on maternal health are presented by WHO, WHO Regional Office Africa, by UNPFA, and UNICEF
WHO offers detailed information about MDG5
Family Care International offers more information about maternal and neonatal health
The Averting Maternal Death and Disability program (AMDD) provides information on needs assessments of emergency obstetric and newborn care
Countdown to 2015 tracks progress in maternal, newborn, and child survival
WHO provides free online viewing of BBC Fight for Life videos describing delivery experiences in different countries
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000394
PMCID: PMC3026699  PMID: 21283606
14.  Defining Catastrophic Costs and Comparing Their Importance for Adverse Tuberculosis Outcome with Multi-Drug Resistance: A Prospective Cohort Study, Peru 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(7):e1001675.
Tom Wingfield and colleagues investigate the relationship between catastrophic costs and tuberculosis outcomes for patients receiving free tuberculosis care in Peru.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Even when tuberculosis (TB) treatment is free, hidden costs incurred by patients and their households (TB-affected households) may worsen poverty and health. Extreme TB-associated costs have been termed “catastrophic” but are poorly defined. We studied TB-affected households' hidden costs and their association with adverse TB outcome to create a clinically relevant definition of catastrophic costs.
Methods and Findings
From 26 October 2002 to 30 November 2009, TB patients (n = 876, 11% with multi-drug-resistant [MDR] TB) and healthy controls (n = 487) were recruited to a prospective cohort study in shantytowns in Lima, Peru. Patients were interviewed prior to and every 2–4 wk throughout treatment, recording direct (household expenses) and indirect (lost income) TB-related costs. Costs were expressed as a proportion of the household's annual income. In poorer households, costs were lower but constituted a higher proportion of the household's annual income: 27% (95% CI = 20%–43%) in the least-poor houses versus 48% (95% CI = 36%–50%) in the poorest. Adverse TB outcome was defined as death, treatment abandonment or treatment failure during therapy, or recurrence within 2 y. 23% (166/725) of patients with a defined treatment outcome had an adverse outcome. Total costs ≥20% of household annual income was defined as catastrophic because this threshold was most strongly associated with adverse TB outcome. Catastrophic costs were incurred by 345 households (39%). Having MDR TB was associated with a higher likelihood of incurring catastrophic costs (54% [95% CI = 43%–61%] versus 38% [95% CI = 34%–41%], p<0.003). Adverse outcome was independently associated with MDR TB (odds ratio [OR] = 8.4 [95% CI = 4.7–15], p<0.001), previous TB (OR = 2.1 [95% CI = 1.3–3.5], p = 0.005), days too unwell to work pre-treatment (OR = 1.01 [95% CI = 1.00–1.01], p = 0.02), and catastrophic costs (OR = 1.7 [95% CI = 1.1–2.6], p = 0.01). The adjusted population attributable fraction of adverse outcomes explained by catastrophic costs was 18% (95% CI = 6.9%–28%), similar to that of MDR TB (20% [95% CI = 14%–25%]). Sensitivity analyses demonstrated that existing catastrophic costs thresholds (≥10% or ≥15% of household annual income) were not associated with adverse outcome in our setting. Study limitations included not measuring certain “dis-saving” variables (including selling household items) and gathering only 6 mo of costs-specific follow-up data for MDR TB patients.
Conclusions
Despite free TB care, having TB disease was expensive for impoverished TB patients in Peru. Incurring higher relative costs was associated with adverse TB outcome. The population attributable fraction indicated that catastrophic costs and MDR TB were associated with similar proportions of adverse outcomes. Thus TB is a socioeconomic as well as infectious problem, and TB control interventions should address both the economic and clinical aspects of this disease.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Caused by the infectious microbe Mycobacterium tuberculosis, tuberculosis (or TB) is a global health problem. In 2012, an estimated 8.6 million people fell ill with TB, and 1.3 million were estimated to have died because of the disease. Poverty is widely recognized as an important risk factor for TB, and developing nations shoulder a disproportionate burden of both poverty and TB disease. For example, in Lima (the capital of Peru), the incidence of TB follows the poverty map, sparing residents living in rich areas of the city while spreading among poorer residents that live in overcrowded households.
The Peruvian government, non-profit organizations, and the World Health Organization (WHO) have extended healthcare programs to provide free diagnosis and treatment for TB and drug-resistant strains of TB in Peru, but rates of new TB cases remain high. For example, in Ventanilla (an area of 16 shantytowns located in northern Lima), the rate of infection was higher during the study period, at 162 new cases per 100,000 people per year, than the national average. About one-third of the 277,895 residents of Ventanilla live on under US$1 per day.
Why Was This Study Done?
Poverty increases the risks associated with contracting TB infection, but the disease also affects the most economically productive age group, and the income of TB-affected households often decreases post-diagnosis, exacerbating poverty. A recent WHO consultation report proposed a target of eradicating catastrophic costs for TB-affected families by 2035, but hidden TB-related costs remain understudied, and there is no international consensus defining catastrophic costs incurred by patients and households affected by TB. Lost income and the cost of transport are among hidden costs associated with free treatment programs; these costs and their potential impact on patients and their households are not well defined. Here the researchers sought to clarify and characterize TB-related costs and explore whether there is a relationship between the hidden costs associated with free TB treatment programs and the likelihood of completing treatment and becoming cured of TB.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Over a seven-year period (2002–2009), the researchers recruited 876 study participants with TB diagnosed at health posts located in Ventanilla. To provide a comparative control group, a sample of 487 healthy individuals was also recruited to participate. Participants were interviewed prior to treatment, and households' TB-related direct expenses and indirect expenses (lost income attributed to TB) were recorded every 2–4 wk. Data were collected during scheduled household visits.
TB patients were poorer than controls, and analysis of the data showed that accessing free TB care was expensive for TB patients, especially those with multi-drug-resistant (MDR) TB. Total expenses were similar pre-treatment compared to during treatment for TB patients, despite receiving free care (1.1 versus 1.2 times the same household's monthly income). Even though direct expenses (for example, costs of medical examinations and medicines other than anti-TB therapy) were lower in the poorest households, their total expenses (direct and indirect) made up a greater proportion of their household annual income: 48% for the poorest households compared to 27% in the least-poor households.
The researchers defined costs that were equal to or above one-fifth (20%) of household annual income as catastrophic because this threshold marked the greatest association with adverse treatment outcomes such as death, abandoning treatment, failing to respond to treatment, or TB recurrence. By calculating the population attributable fraction—the proportional reduction in population adverse treatment outcomes that could occur if a risk factor was reduced to zero—the authors estimate that adverse TB outcomes explained by catastrophic costs and MDR TB were similar: 18% for catastrophic costs and 20% for MDR TB.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings of this study indicate a potential role for social protection as a means to improve TB disease control and health, as well as defining a novel, evidence-based threshold for catastrophic costs for TB-affected households of 20% or more of annual income. Addressing the economic impact of diagnosis and treatment in impoverished communities may increase the odds of curing TB.
Study limitations included only six months of follow-up data being gathered on costs for each participant and not recording “dissavings,” such as selling of household items in response to financial shock. Because the study was observational, the authors aren't able to determine the direction of the association between catastrophic costs and TB outcome. Even so, the study indicates that TB is a socioeconomic as well as infectious problem, and that TB control interventions should address both the economic and clinical aspects of the disease.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001675.
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of tuberculosis, including the Global Tuberculosis Report 2013
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about tuberculosis
Médecins Sans Frontières's TB&ME blog provides patients' stories of living with MDR TB
TB Alert, a UK-based charity that promotes TB awareness worldwide, has information on TB in several European, African, and Asian languages
More information is available about the Innovation For Health and Development (IFHAD) charity and its research team's work in Peru
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001675
PMCID: PMC4098993  PMID: 25025331
15.  Access To Essential Maternal Health Interventions and Human Rights Violations among Vulnerable Communities in Eastern Burma 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(12):e242.
Background
Health indicators are poor and human rights violations are widespread in eastern Burma. Reproductive and maternal health indicators have not been measured in this setting but are necessary as part of an evaluation of a multi-ethnic pilot project exploring strategies to increase access to essential maternal health interventions. The goal of this study is to estimate coverage of maternal health services prior to this project and associations between exposure to human rights violations and access to such services.
Methods and Findings
Selected communities in the Shan, Mon, Karen, and Karenni regions of eastern Burma that were accessible to community-based organizations operating from Thailand were surveyed to estimate coverage of reproductive, maternal, and family planning services, and to assess exposure to household-level human rights violations within the pilot-project target population. Two-stage cluster sampling surveys among ever-married women of reproductive age (15–45 y) documented access to essential antenatal care interventions, skilled attendance at birth, postnatal care, and family planning services. Mid-upper arm circumference, hemoglobin by color scale, and Plasmodium falciparum parasitemia by rapid diagnostic dipstick were measured. Exposure to human rights violations in the prior 12 mo was recorded. Between September 2006 and January 2007, 2,914 surveys were conducted. Eighty-eight percent of women reported a home delivery for their last pregnancy (within previous 5 y). Skilled attendance at birth (5.1%), any (39.3%) or ≥ 4 (16.7%) antenatal visits, use of an insecticide-treated bed net (21.6%), and receipt of iron supplements (11.8%) were low. At the time of the survey, more than 60% of women had hemoglobin level estimates ≤ 11.0 g/dl and 7.2% were Pf positive. Unmet need for contraceptives exceeded 60%. Violations of rights were widely reported: 32.1% of Karenni households reported forced labor and 10% of Karen households had been forced to move. Among Karen households, odds of anemia were 1.51 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.95–2.40) times higher among women reporting forced displacement, and 7.47 (95% CI 2.21–25.3) higher among those exposed to food security violations. The odds of receiving no antenatal care services were 5.94 (95% CI 2.23–15.8) times higher among those forcibly displaced.
Conclusions
Coverage of basic maternal health interventions is woefully inadequate in these selected populations and substantially lower than even the national estimates for Burma, among the lowest in the region. Considerable political, financial, and human resources are necessary to improve access to maternal health care in these communities.
Luke Mullany and colleagues examine access to essential maternal health interventions and human rights violations within vulnerable communities in eastern Burma.
Editors' Summary
Background.
After decades of military rule, Burma has one of the world's worst health-care systems and high levels of ill health. For example, maternal mortality (deaths among women from pregnancy-related causes) is around 360 per 100,000 live births in Burma, whereas in neighboring Thailand it is only 44 per 100,000 live births. Maternal health is even worse in the Shan, Karenni, Karen and Mon states in eastern Burma where ethnic conflicts and enforced village relocations have internally displaced more than half a million people. Here, maternal mortality is thought to be about 1000 per 100, 000 live births. In an effort to improve access to life-saving maternal health interventions in these states, Burmese community-based health organizations, the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights and the Global Health Access Program in the USA, and the Mae Tao Clinic (a health-worker training center in Thailand) recently set up the Mobile Obstetric Maternal Health Workers (MOM) Project. In this pilot project, local health workers from 12 communities in eastern Burma received training in antenatal care, emergency obstetrics (the care of women during childbirth), blood transfusion, and family planning at the Mae Tao Clinic. Back in Burma, these maternal health workers trained additional local health workers and traditional birth attendants. All these individuals now provide maternal health care to their communities.
Why Was This Study Done?
The effectiveness of the MOM project can only be evaluated if accurate baseline information on women's access to maternal health-care services is available. This information is also needed to ensure the wise use of scarce health-care resources. However, very little is known about reproductive and maternal health in eastern Burma. In this study, the researchers analyze the information on women's access to reproductive and maternal health-care services that was collected during the initial field implementation stage of the MOM project. In addition, they analyze whether exposure to enforced village relocations and other human rights violations affect access to maternal health-care services.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Trained survey workers asked nearly 3000 ever-married women of reproductive age in the selected communities about their access to antenatal and postnatal care, skilled birth attendants, and family planning. They measured each woman's mid-upper arm circumference (an indicator of nutritional status) and tested them for anemia (iron deficiency) and infection with malaria parasites (a common cause of anemia in tropical countries). Finally, they asked the women about any recent violations of their human rights such as forced labour or relocation. Nearly 90% of the women reported a home delivery for their last baby. A skilled attendant was present at only one in 20 births and only one in three women had any antenatal care. One third of the women received postnatal care and only a third said they had access to effective contraceptives. Few women had received iron supplements or had used insecticide-treated bednets to avoid malaria-carrying mosquitos. Consequently, more than half the women were anemic and 7.2% were infected with malaria parasites. Many women also showed signs of poor nutrition. Finally, human rights violations were widely reported by the women. In Karen, the region containing most of the study communities, forced relocation tripled the risk of women developing anemia and greatly decreased their chances of receiving any antenatal care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that access to maternal health-care interventions is extremely limited and that poor nutrition, anemia, and malaria, all of which increase the risk of pregnancy complications, are widespread in the communities in the MOM project. Because these communities had some basic health services and access to training in Thailand before the project started, these results probably underestimate the lack of access to maternal health-care services in eastern Burma. Nevertheless, it is clear that considerable political, financial, and human resources will be needed to improve maternal health in this region. Finally, the findings also reveal a link between human rights violations and reduced access to maternal health-care services. Thus, the scale of human rights violations will need to be considered when evaluating programs designed to improve maternal health in Burma and in other places where there is ongoing conflict.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050242.
This research article is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Macaya Douoguih
The World Health Organization provides information on all aspects of health in Burma (in several languages)
The Mae Tao Clinic also provides general information about Burma and its health services
More information about the MOM project is available in a previous publication by the researchers
The Burma Campaign UK and Human Rights Watch both provide detailed information about human rights violations in Burma
The United Nations Population Fund provides information about safe motherhood and ongoing efforts to save mothers' lives around the world
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050242
PMCID: PMC2605890  PMID: 19108601
16.  Solar Drinking Water Disinfection (SODIS) to Reduce Childhood Diarrhoea in Rural Bolivia: A Cluster-Randomized, Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(8):e1000125.
Daniel Maeusezahl and colleagues conducted a cluster-randomized controlled trial in rural Bolivia of solar drinking water disinfection, and find only moderate compliance with the intervention and no evidence of reduction in diarrhea among children.
Background
Solar drinking water disinfection (SODIS) is a low-cost, point-of-use water purification method that has been disseminated globally. Laboratory studies suggest that SODIS is highly efficacious in inactivating waterborne pathogens. Previous field studies provided limited evidence for its effectiveness in reducing diarrhoea.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a cluster-randomized controlled trial in 22 rural communities in Bolivia to evaluate the effect of SODIS in reducing diarrhoea among children under the age of 5 y. A local nongovernmental organisation conducted a standardised interactive SODIS-promotion campaign in 11 communities targeting households, communities, and primary schools. Mothers completed a daily child health diary for 1 y. Within the intervention arm 225 households (376 children) were trained to expose water-filled polyethyleneteraphtalate bottles to sunlight. Eleven communities (200 households, 349 children) served as a control. We recorded 166,971 person-days of observation during the trial representing 79.9% and 78.9% of the total possible person-days of child observation in intervention and control arms, respectively. Mean compliance with SODIS was 32.1%. The reported incidence rate of gastrointestinal illness in children in the intervention arm was 3.6 compared to 4.3 episodes/year at risk in the control arm. The relative rate of diarrhoea adjusted for intracluster correlation was 0.81 (95% confidence interval 0.59–1.12). The median length of diarrhoea was 3 d in both groups.
Conclusions
Despite an extensive SODIS promotion campaign we found only moderate compliance with the intervention and no strong evidence for a substantive reduction in diarrhoea among children. These results suggest that there is a need for better evidence of how the well-established laboratory efficacy of this home-based water treatment method translates into field effectiveness under various cultural settings and intervention intensities. Further global promotion of SODIS for general use should be undertaken with care until such evidence is available.
Trial Registration
www.ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00731497
Please see later in the article for Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Thirsty? Well, turn on the tap and have a drink of refreshing, clean, safe water. Unfortunately, more than one billion people around the world don't have this option. Instead of the endless supply of safe drinking water that people living in affluent, developed countries take for granted, more than a third of people living in developing countries only have contaminated water from rivers, lakes, or wells to drink. Because of limited access to safe drinking water, poor sanitation, and poor personal hygiene, 1.8 million people (mainly children under 5 years old) die every year from diarrheal diseases. This death toll could be greatly reduced by lowering the numbers of disease-causing microbes in household drinking water. One promising simple, low-cost, point-of-use water purification method is solar drinking water disinfection (SODIS). In SODIS, recycled transparent plastic drinks bottles containing contaminated water are exposed to full sunlight for 6 hours. During this exposure, ultraviolet radiation from the sun, together with an increase in temperature, inactivates the disease-causing organisms in the water.
Why Was This Study Done?
SODIS has been promoted as an effective method to purify household water since 1999, and about 2 million people now use the approach (www.SODIS.ch). However, although SODIS works well under laboratory conditions, very few studies have investigated its ability to reduce the number of cases of diarrhea occurring in a population over a specific time period (the incidence of diarrhea) in the real world. Before any more resources are used to promote SODIS—its effective implementation requires intensive and on-going education—it is important to be sure that SODIS really does reduce the burden of diarrhea in communities in the developing world. In this study, therefore, the researchers undertake a cluster-randomized controlled trial (a study in which groups of people are randomly assigned to receive an intervention or to act as controls) in 22 rural communities in Bolivia to evaluate the ability of SODIS to reduce diarrhea in children under 5 years old.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
For their trial, the researchers enrolled 22 rural Bolivian communities that included at least 30 children under 5 years old and that relied on drinking water resources that were contaminated with disease-causing organisms. They randomly assigned 11 communities (225 households, 376 children) to receive the intervention—a standardized, interactive SODIS promotion campaign conducted by Project Concern International (a nongovernmental organization)—and 11 communities (200 households, 349 children) to act as controls. Households in the intervention arm were trained to expose water-filled plastic bottles for at least 6 hours to sunlight using demonstrations, role play, and videos. Mothers in both arms of the trial completed a daily child health diary for a year. Almost 80% of the households self-reported using SODIS at the beginning and end of the study. However, community-based field workers estimated that only 32.1% of households on average used SODIS. Data collected in the child health diaries, which were completed on more than three-quarters of days in both arms of the trial, indicated that the children in the intervention arm had 3.6 episodes of diarrhea per year whereas the children in the control arm had 4.3 episodes of diarrhea per year. The difference in episode numbers was not statistically significant, however. That is, the small difference in the incidence of diarrhea between the arms of the trial may have occurred by chance and may not be related to the intervention.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, despite an intensive campaign to promote SODIS, less than a third of households in the trial routinely treated their water in the recommended manner. Moreover, these findings fail to provide strong evidence of a marked reduction of the incidence of diarrhea among children following implementation of SODIS although some aspects of the study design may have resulted in the efficacy of SODIS being underestimated. Thus, until additional studies of the effectiveness of SODIS in various real world settings have been completed, it may be unwise to extend the global promotion of SODIS for general use any further.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000125
The PLoS Medicine editors wrote an editorial arguing that water should be a human right
The World Health Organization provides information about household water treatment and safe storage http://www.who.int/household_water and about the importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene for health http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/en/index.html (in several languages)
The SODIS Reference Center provides detailed information about solar water disinfection (in several languages)
The SODIS Foundation in Bolivia provides practical information for the roll-out of solar water disinfection in Latin America (in Spanish and English)
Project Concern International provides information about its campaign to promote SODIS in Bolivia (in Spanish)
The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) is a global multi-stakeholder partnership organization with a goal of advocating to achieve sustainable water supply and sanitation for all people
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000125
PMCID: PMC2719054  PMID: 19688036
17.  Does contracting of health care in Afghanistan work? Public and service-users' perceptions and experience 
BMC Health Services Research  2011;11(Suppl 2):S11.
Background
In rebuilding devastated health services, the government of Afghanistan has provided access to basic services mainly by contracting with non-government organisations (NGOs), and more recently the Strengthening Mechanism (SM) of contracting with Provincial Health Offices. Community-based information about the public's views and experience of health services is scarce.
Methods
Field teams visited households in a stratified random sample of 30 communities in two districts in Kabul province, with health services mainly provided either by an NGO or through the SM and administered a questionnaire about household views, use, and experience of health services, including payments for services and corruption. They later discussed the findings with separate community focus groups of men and women. We calculated weighted frequencies of views and experience of services and multivariate analysis examined the related factors.
Results
The survey covered 3283 households including 2845 recent health service users. Some 42% of households in the SM district and 57% in the NGO district rated available health services as good. Some 63% of households in the SM district (adjacent to Kabul) and 93% in the NGO district ordinarily used government health facilities. Service users rated private facilities more positively than government facilities. Government service users were more satisfied in urban facilities, if the household head was not educated, if they had enough food in the last week, and if they waited less than 30 minutes. Many households were unwilling to comment on corruption in health services; 15% in the SM district and 26% in the NGO district reported having been asked for an unofficial payment. Despite a policy of free services, one in seven users paid for treatment in government facilities, and three in four paid for medicine outside the facilities. Focus groups confirmed people knew payments were unofficial; they were afraid to talk about corruption.
Conclusions
Households used government health services but preferred private services. The experience of service users was similar in the SM and NGO districts. People made unofficial payments in government facilities, whether SM or NGO run. Tackling corruption in health services is an important part of anti-corruption measures in Afghanistan.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-11-S2-S11
PMCID: PMC3332555  PMID: 22376191
18.  Prevalence of Trachoma in Unity State, South Sudan: Results from a Large-Scale Population-Based Survey and Potential Implications for Further Surveys 
Background
Large parts of South Sudan are thought to be trachoma-endemic but baseline data are limited. This study aimed to estimate prevalence for planning trachoma interventions in Unity State, to identify risk factors and to investigate the effect of different sampling approaches on study conclusions.
Methods and Findings
The survey area was defined as one domain of eight counties in Unity State. Across the area, 40 clusters (villages) were randomly selected proportional to the county population size in a population-based prevalence survey. The simplified grading scheme was used to classify clinical signs of trachoma. The unadjusted prevalence of trachoma inflammation-follicular (TF) in children aged 1–9 years was 70.5% (95% CI: 68.6–72.3). After adjusting for age, sex, county and clustering of cases at household and village level the prevalence was 71.0% (95% CI: 69.9–72.1). The prevalence of trachomatous trichiasis (TT) in adults was 15.1% (95% CI: 13.4–17.0) and 13.5% (95% CI: 12.0–15.1) before and after adjustment, respectively. We estimate that 700,000 people (the entire population of Unity State) require antibiotic treatment and approximately 54,178 people require TT surgery. Risk factor analyses confirmed child-level associations with TF and highlighted that older adults living in poverty are at higher risk of TT. Conditional simulations, testing the alternatives of sampling 20 or 60 villages over the same area, indicated that sampling of only 20 villages would have provided an acceptable level of precision for state-level prevalence estimation to inform intervention decisions in this hyperendemic setting.
Conclusion
Trachoma poses an enormous burden on the population of Unity State. Comprehensive control is urgently required to avoid preventable blindness and should be initiated across the state now. In other parts of South Sudan suspected to be highly trachoma endemic, counties should be combined into larger survey areas to generate the baseline data required to initiate interventions.
Author Summary
Large parts of South Sudan are thought to be trachoma endemic but baseline data, required to initiate interventions, are few. District-by-district surveys, currently recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), are often not financially or logistically viable. We therefore adapted existing WHO guidelines and combined eight counties (equivalent to districts) of Unity State into one survey area, randomly sampling 40 villages using a population-based survey design. This decision was based on a trachoma risk map and a trachoma rapid assessment, both identifying the state as likely to be highly endemic. The survey confirmed trachoma as being hyperendemic throughout Unity State, meaning that large-scale intervention should be initiated now. Simulation studies were conducted to determine the likely outcome if fewer (n = 20) or more (n = 60) villages had been sampled, confirming that precision decreased or increased, respectively. Importantly, simulation results also showed that all three sample sizes would have led to the same conclusion, namely the need for large-scale intervention. This finding suggests that district-by-district surveys may not be required for areas where trachoma is suspected to be highly prevalent but that are lacking baseline data; instead districts may be combined into a larger survey area.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0001585
PMCID: PMC3323519  PMID: 22506082
19.  The Ghana essential health interventions program: a plausibility trial of the impact of health systems strengthening on maternal & child survival 
BMC Health Services Research  2013;13(Suppl 2):S3.
Background
During the 1990s, researchers at the Navrongo Health Research Centre in northern Ghana developed a highly successful community health program. The keystone of the Navrongo approach was the deployment of nurses termed community health officers to village locations. A trial showed that, compared to areas relying on existing services alone, the approach reduced child mortality by half, maternal mortality by 40%, and fertility by nearly a birth — from a total fertility rate of 5.5 in only five years. In 2000, the government of Ghana launched a national program called Community-based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) to scale up the Navrongo model. However, CHPS scale-up has been slow in districts located outside of the Upper East Region, where the “Navrongo Experiment” was first carried out. This paper describes the Ghana Essential Health Intervention Project (GEHIP), a plausibility trial of strategies for strengthening CHPS, especially in the areas of maternal and newborn health, and generating the political will to scale up the program with strategies that are faithful to the original design.
Description of the intervention
GEHIP improves the CHPS model by 1) extending the range and quality of services for newborns; 2) training community volunteers to conduct the World Health Organization service regimen known as integrated management of childhood illness (IMCI); 3) simplifying the collection of health management information and ensuring its use for decision making; 4) enabling community health nurses to manage emergencies, particularly obstetric complications and refer cases without delay; 5) adding $0.85 per capita annually to district budgets and marshalling grassroots political commitment to financing CHPS implementation; and 6) strengthening CHPS leadership at all levels of the system.
Evaluation design
GEHIP impact is assessed by conducting baseline and endline survey research and computing the Heckman “difference in difference” test for under-5 mortality in three intervention districts relative to four comparison districts for core indicators of health status and survival rates. To elucidate results, hierarchical child survival hazard models will be estimated that incorporate measures of health system strength as survival determinants, adjusting for the potentially confounding effects of parental and household characteristics. Qualitative systems appraisal procedures will be used to monitor and explain GEHIP implementation innovations, constraints, and progress.
Discussion
By demonstrating practical means of strengthening a real-world health system while monitoring costs and assessing maternal and child survival impact, GEHIP is expected to contribute to national health policy, planning, and resource allocation that will be needed to accelerate progress with the Millennium Development Goals.
doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-S2-S3
PMCID: PMC3668206  PMID: 23819518
20.  The Role of Viral Introductions in Sustaining Community-Based HIV Epidemics in Rural Uganda: Evidence from Spatial Clustering, Phylogenetics, and Egocentric Transmission Models 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(3):e1001610.
Using different approaches to investigate HIV transmission patterns, Justin Lessler and colleagues find that extra-community HIV introductions are frequent and likely play a role in sustaining the epidemic in the Rakai community.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
It is often assumed that local sexual networks play a dominant role in HIV spread in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of this study was to determine the extent to which continued HIV transmission in rural communities—home to two-thirds of the African population—is driven by intra-community sexual networks versus viral introductions from outside of communities.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed the spatial dynamics of HIV transmission in rural Rakai District, Uganda, using data from a cohort of 14,594 individuals within 46 communities. We applied spatial clustering statistics, viral phylogenetics, and probabilistic transmission models to quantify the relative contribution of viral introductions into communities versus community- and household-based transmission to HIV incidence. Individuals living in households with HIV-incident (n = 189) or HIV-prevalent (n = 1,597) persons were 3.2 (95% CI: 2.7–3.7) times more likely to be HIV infected themselves compared to the population in general, but spatial clustering outside of households was relatively weak and was confined to distances <500 m. Phylogenetic analyses of gag and env genes suggest that chains of transmission frequently cross community boundaries. A total of 95 phylogenetic clusters were identified, of which 44% (42/95) were two individuals sharing a household. Among the remaining clusters, 72% (38/53) crossed community boundaries. Using the locations of self-reported sexual partners, we estimate that 39% (95% CI: 34%–42%) of new viral transmissions occur within stable household partnerships, and that among those infected by extra-household sexual partners, 62% (95% CI: 55%–70%) are infected by sexual partners from outside their community. These results rely on the representativeness of the sample and the quality of self-reported partnership data and may not reflect HIV transmission patterns outside of Rakai.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that HIV introductions into communities are common and account for a significant proportion of new HIV infections acquired outside of households in rural Uganda, though the extent to which this is true elsewhere in Africa remains unknown. Our results also suggest that HIV prevention efforts should be implemented at spatial scales broader than the community and should target key populations likely responsible for introductions into communities.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
About 35 million people (25 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and about 2.3 million people become newly infected every year. HIV destroys immune system cells, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. HIV infection can be controlled by taking antiretroviral drugs (antiretroviral therapy, or ART) daily throughout life. Although originally available only to people living in wealthy countries, recent political efforts mean that 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries now have access to ART. However, ART does not cure HIV infection, so prevention of viral transmission remains extremely important. Because HIV is usually transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of infection by abstaining from sex, by having one or a few partners, and by using condoms. Male circumcision also reduces HIV transmission. In addition to reducing illness and death among HIV-positive people, ART also reduces HIV transmission.
Why Was This Study Done?
Effective HIV control requires an understanding of how HIV spreads through sexual networks. These networks include sexual partnerships between individuals in households, between community members in different households, and between individuals from different communities. Local sexual networks (household and intra-community sexual partnerships) are sometimes assumed to be the dominant driving force in HIV spread in sub-Saharan Africa, but are viral introductions from sexual partnerships with individuals outside the community also important? This question needs answering because the effectiveness of interventions such as ART as prevention partly depends on how many new infections in an intervention area are attributable to infection from partners residing in that area and how many are attributable to infection from partners living elsewhere. Here, the researchers use three analytical methods—spatial clustering statistics, viral phylogenetics, and egocentric transmission modeling—to ask whether HIV transmission in rural Uganda is driven predominantly by intra-community sexual networks. Spatial clustering analysis uses the geographical coordinates of households to measure the tendency of HIV-infected people to cluster spatially at scales consistent with community transmission. Viral phylogenetic analysis examines the genetic relatedness of viruses; if transmission is through local networks, viruses in newly infected individuals should more closely resemble viruses in other community members than those in people outside the community. Egocentric transmission modelling uses information on the locations of recent sexual partners to estimate the proportions of new transmissions from household, intra-community, and extra-community partners.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers applied their three analytical methods to data collected from 14,594 individuals living in 46 communities (governmental administrative units) in Rakai District, Uganda. Spatial clustering analysis indicated that individuals who lived in households with individuals with incident HIV (newly diagnosed) or prevalent HIV (previously diagnosed) were 3.2 times more likely than the general population to be HIV-positive themselves. Spatial clustering outside households was relatively weak, however, and was confined to distances of less than half a kilometer. Viral phylogenetic analysis indicated that 44% of phylogenetic clusters (viruses with related genetic sequences found in more than one individual) were within households, but that 40% of clusters crossed community borders. Finally, analysis of the locations of self-reported sexual partners indicated that 39% of new viral transmissions occurred within stable household partnerships, but that among people newly infected by extra-household partners, nearly two-thirds were infected by partners from outside their community.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results of all three analyses suggest that HIV introductions into communities are frequent and are likely to play an important role in sustaining HIV transmission in the Rakai District. Specifically, within this rural HIV-endemic region (a region where HIV infection is always present), viral introductions combined with intra-household transmission account for the majority of new infections, although community-based sexual networks also play a critical role in HIV transmission. These findings may not be generalizable to the broader Ugandan population or to other regions of Africa, and their accuracy is likely to be limited by the use of self-reported sexual partner data. Nevertheless, these findings indicate that the dynamics of HIV transmission in rural Uganda (and probably elsewhere) are complex. Consequently, to halt the spread of HIV, prevention efforts will need to be implemented at spatial scales broader than individual communities, and key populations that are likely to introduce HIV into communities will need to be targeted.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001610.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and AIDS in Uganda and on HIV prevention strategies (in English and Spanish)
The UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2013 provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it
The Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (University of California, San Francisco) has a fact sheet about sexual networks and HIV prevention
Wikipedia provides information on spatial clustering analysis (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
A PLOS Computational Biology Topic Page (a review article that is a published copy of record of a dynamic version of the article as found in Wikipedia) about viral phylodynamics is available
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert, NAM/aidsmap, and Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001610
PMCID: PMC3942316  PMID: 24595023
21.  Participatory testing and reporting in an environmental-justice community of Worcester, Massachusetts: a pilot project 
Environmental Health  2010;9:34.
Background
Despite indoor home environments being where people spend most time, involving residents in testing those environments has been very limited, especially in marginalized communities. We piloted participatory testing and reporting that combined relatively simple tests with actionable reporting to empower residents in Main South/Piedmont neighborhoods of Worcester, Massachusetts. We answered: 1) How do we design and implement the approach for neighborhood and household environments using participatory methods? 2) What do pilot tests reveal? 3) How does our experience inform testing practice?
Methods
The approach was designed and implemented with community partners using community-based participatory research. Residents and researchers tested fourteen homes for: lead in dust indoors, soil outdoors, paint indoors and drinking water; radon in basement air; PM2.5 in indoor air; mold spores in indoor/outdoor air; and drinking water quality. Monitoring of neighborhood particulates by residents and researchers used real-time data to stimulate dialogue.
Results
Given the newness of our partnership and unforeseen conflicts, we achieved moderate-high success overall based on process and outcome criteria: methods, test results, reporting, lessons learned. The conflict burden we experienced may be attributable less to generic university-community differences in interests/culture, and more to territoriality and interpersonal issues. Lead-in-paint touch-swab results were poor proxies for lead-in-dust. Of eight units tested in summer, three had very high lead-in-dust (>1000 μg/ft2), six exceeded at least one USEPA standard for lead-in-dust and/or soil. Tap water tests showed no significant exposures. Monitoring of neighborhood particulates raised awareness of environmental health risks, especially asthma.
Conclusions
Timely reporting back home-toxics' results to residents is ethical but it must be empowering. Future work should fund the active participation of a few motivated residents as representatives of the target population. Although difficult and demanding in time and effort, the approach can educate residents and inform exposure assessment. It should be considered as a core ingredient of comprehensive household toxics' testing, and has potential to improve participant retention and the overall positive impact of long-term environmental health research efforts.
doi:10.1186/1476-069X-9-34
PMCID: PMC2914716  PMID: 20604953
22.  Drivers of Inequality in Millennium Development Goal Progress: A Statistical Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(3):e1000241.
David Stuckler and colleagues examine the impact of the HIV and noncommunicable disease epidemics on low-income countries' progress toward the Millennium Development Goals for health.
Background
Many low- and middle-income countries are not on track to reach the public health targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We evaluated whether differential progress towards health MDGs was associated with economic development, public health funding (both overall and as percentage of available domestic funds), or health system infrastructure. We also examined the impact of joint epidemics of HIV/AIDS and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which may limit the ability of households to address child mortality and increase risks of infectious diseases.
Methods and Findings
We calculated each country's distance from its MDG goals for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and infant and child mortality targets for the year 2005 using the United Nations MDG database for 227 countries from 1990 to the present. We studied the association of economic development (gross domestic product [GDP] per capita in purchasing-power-parity), the relative priority placed on health (health spending as a percentage of GDP), real health spending (health system expenditures in purchasing-power-parity), HIV/AIDS burden (prevalence rates among ages 15–49 y), and NCD burden (age-standardised chronic disease mortality rates), with measures of distance from attainment of health MDGs. To avoid spurious correlations that may exist simply because countries with high disease burdens would be expected to have low MDG progress, and to adjust for potential confounding arising from differences in countries' initial disease burdens, we analysed the variations in rates of change in MDG progress versus expected rates for each country. While economic development, health priority, health spending, and health infrastructure did not explain more than one-fifth of the differences in progress to health MDGs among countries, burdens of HIV and NCDs explained more than half of between-country inequalities in child mortality progress (R2-infant mortality  = 0.57, R2-under 5 mortality  = 0.54). HIV/AIDS and NCD burdens were also the strongest correlates of unequal progress towards tuberculosis goals (R2 = 0.57), with NCDs having an effect independent of HIV/AIDS, consistent with micro-level studies of the influence of tobacco and diabetes on tuberculosis risks. Even after correcting for health system variables, initial child mortality, and tuberculosis diseases, we found that lower burdens of HIV/AIDS and NCDs were associated with much greater progress towards attainment of child mortality and tuberculosis MDGs than were gains in GDP. An estimated 1% lower HIV prevalence or 10% lower mortality rate from NCDs would have a similar impact on progress towards the tuberculosis MDG as an 80% or greater rise in GDP, corresponding to at least a decade of economic growth in low-income countries.
Conclusions
Unequal progress in health MDGs in low-income countries appears significantly related to burdens of HIV and NCDs in a population, after correcting for potentially confounding socioeconomic, disease burden, political, and health system variables. The common separation between NCDs, child mortality, and infectious syndromes among development programs may obscure interrelationships of illness affecting those living in poor households—whether economic (e.g., as money spent on tobacco is lost from child health expenditures) or biological (e.g., as diabetes or HIV enhance the risk of tuberculosis).
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2000, 189 countries adopted the United Nations (UN) Millennium Declaration, which commits the world to the eradication of extreme poverty by 2015. The Declaration lists eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), 21 quantifiable targets, and 60 indicators of progress. So, for example, MDG 4 aims to reduce child mortality (deaths). The target for this goal is to reduce the number of children who die each year before they are five years old (the under-five mortality rate) to two-thirds of its 1990 value by 2015. Indicators of progress toward this goal include the under-five mortality rate and the infant mortality rate. Because poverty and ill health are inextricably linked—ill health limits the ability of individuals and nations to improve their economic status, and poverty contributes to the development of many illnesses—two other MDGs also tackle public health issues. MDG 5 sets a target of reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters of its 1990 level by 2015. MDG 6 aims to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other major diseases such as tuberculosis by 2015.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although progress has been made toward achieving the MDGs, few if any of the targets are likely to be met by 2015. Worryingly, low-income countries are falling furthest behind their MDG targets. For example, although child mortality has been declining globally, in many poor countries there has been little or no progress. What is the explanation for this and other inequalities in progress toward the health MDGs? Some countries may simply lack the financial resources needed to combat epidemics or may allocate only a low proportion of their gross domestic product (GDP) to health. Alternatively, money allocated to health may not always reach the people who need it most because of an inadequate health infrastructure. Finally, coexisting epidemics may be hindering progress toward the MDG health targets. Thus, the spread of HIV/AIDS may be hindering attempts to limit the spread of tuberculosis because HIV infection increases the risk of active tuberculosis, and ongoing epidemics of diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) may be affecting the attainment of health MDGs by diverting scarce resources. In this study, the researchers investigate whether any of these possibilities is driving the inequalities in MDG progress.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers calculated how far 227 countries were from their MDG targets for HIV, tuberculosis, and infant and child mortality in 2005 using information collected by the UN. They then used statistical methods to study the relationship between this distance and economic development (GDP per person), health spending as a proportion of GDP (health priority), actual health system expenditures, health infrastructure, HIV burden, and NCD burden in each country. Economic development, health priority, health spending, and health infrastructure explained no more than one-fifth of the inequalities in progress toward health MDGs. By contrast, the HIV and NCD burdens explained more than half of inequalities in child mortality progress and were strongly associated with unequal progress toward tuberculosis goals. Furthermore, the researchers calculated that a 1% reduction in the number of people infected with HIV or a 10% reduction in rate of deaths from NCDs in a population would have a similar impact on progress toward the tuberculosis MDG target as a rise in GDP corresponding to at least a decade of growth in low-income countries.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings are limited by the quality of the available data on health indicators in low-income countries and, because the researchers used country-wide data, their findings only reveal possible drivers of inequalities in progress toward MDGs in whole countries and may mask drivers of within-country inequalities. Nevertheless, as one of the first attempts to analyze the determinants of global inequalities in progress toward the health MDGs, these findings have important implications for global health policy. Most importantly, the finding that unequal progress is related to the burdens of HIV and NCDs in populations suggests that programs designed to achieve health MDGs must consider all the diseases and factors that can trap households in vicious cycles of illness and poverty, especially since the achievement of feasible reductions in NCDs in low-income countries could greatly enhance progress towards health MDGs.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000241.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals website provides detailed information about the Millennium Declaration, the MDGs, their targets and their indicators
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009 and its progress chart provide an up-to-date assessment of progress towards the MDGs
The World Health Organization provides information about poverty and health and health and development
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000241
PMCID: PMC2830449  PMID: 20209000
23.  Prevalence of Trachoma at Sub-District Level in Ethiopia: Determining When to Stop Mass Azithromycin Distribution 
Background
To eliminate blinding trachoma, the World Health Organization emphasizes implementing the SAFE strategy, which includes annual mass drug administration (MDA) with azithromycin to the whole population of endemic districts. Prevalence surveys to assess impact at the district level are recommended after at least 3 years of intervention. The decision to stop MDA is based on a prevalence of trachomatous inflammation follicular (TF) among children aged 1–9 years below 5% at the sub-district level, as determined by an additional round of surveys limited within districts where TF prevalence is below 10%. We conducted impact surveys powered to estimate prevalence simultaneously at the sub-district and district in two zones of Amhara, Ethiopia to determine whether MDA could be stopped.
Methodology
Seventy-two separate population-based, sub-district surveys were conducted in 25 districts. In each survey all residents from 10 randomly selected clusters were screened for clinical signs of trachoma. Data were weighted according to selection probabilities and adjusted for correlation due to clustering.
Principal Findings
Overall, 89,735 residents were registered from 21,327 households of whom 72,452 people (80.7%) were examined. The prevalence of TF in children aged 1–9 years was below 5% in six sub-districts and two districts. Sub-district level prevalence of TF in children aged 1–9 years ranged from 0.9–76.9% and district-level from 0.9–67.0%. In only one district was the prevalence of trichiasis below 0.1%.
Conclusions/Significance
The experience from these zones in Ethiopia demonstrates that impact assessments designed to give a prevalence estimate of TF at sub-district level are possible, although the scale of the work was challenging. Given the assessed district-level prevalence of TF, sub-district-level surveys would have been warranted in only five districts. Interpretation was not as simple as stopping MDA in sub-districts below 5% given programmatic challenges of exempting sub-districts from a highly regarded program and the proximity of hyper-endemic sub-districts.
Author Summary
Trachoma, the leading cause of preventable blindness, is targeted for “elimination as a public health problem” by the year 2020. National programs are implementing the recommended strategy of surgery, antibiotics, facial cleanliness, and environmental improvements (SAFE) to meet this target. Many programs are currently facing the decision of when to scale down interventions, particularly mass drug administration (MDA) of azithromycin. We implemented large population-based surveys in two different zones of the Amhara National Regional State of Ethiopia. Rather than conducting an impact assessment first at the district level, followed by additional sub-district-level surveys, we took a novel approach to measure the prevalence of trachoma at sub-district level to be able to make an immediate decision of whether to stop MDA. Over 72,000 people in 714 communities in 72 sub-districts were examined for clinical signs of trachoma. We identified only six sub-districts that met criteria for being able to stop MDA. Our work demonstrates that determining the prevalence of trachoma at sub-district level is feasible but requires significant resources. In this hyper-endemic setting, sub-district-level surveys were not needed in the majority of districts. Overall, the clinical data suggest some decline in trachoma within these areas since the SAFE strategy was implemented.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0002732
PMCID: PMC3953063  PMID: 24625539
24.  The Influence of Health Systems on Hypertension Awareness, Treatment, and Control: A Systematic Literature Review 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001490.
Will Maimaris and colleagues systematically review the evidence that national or regional health systems, including place of care and medication co-pays, influence hypertension awareness, treatment, and control.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Hypertension (HT) affects an estimated one billion people worldwide, nearly three-quarters of whom live in low- or middle-income countries (LMICs). In both developed and developing countries, only a minority of individuals with HT are adequately treated. The reasons are many but, as with other chronic diseases, they include weaknesses in health systems. We conducted a systematic review of the influence of national or regional health systems on HT awareness, treatment, and control.
Methods and Findings
Eligible studies were those that analyzed the impact of health systems arrangements at the regional or national level on HT awareness, treatment, control, or antihypertensive medication adherence. The following databases were searched on 13th May 2013: Medline, Embase, Global Health, LILACS, Africa-Wide Information, IMSEAR, IMEMR, and WPRIM. There were no date or language restrictions. Two authors independently assessed papers for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. A narrative synthesis of the findings was conducted. Meta-analysis was not conducted due to substantial methodological heterogeneity in included studies. 53 studies were included, 11 of which were carried out in LMICs. Most studies evaluated health system financing and only four evaluated the effect of either human, physical, social, or intellectual resources on HT outcomes. Reduced medication co-payments were associated with improved HT control and treatment adherence, mainly evaluated in US settings. On balance, health insurance coverage was associated with improved outcomes of HT care in US settings. Having a routine place of care or physician was associated with improved HT care.
Conclusions
This review supports the minimization of medication co-payments in health insurance plans, and although studies were largely conducted in the US, the principle is likely to apply more generally. Studies that identify and analyze complexities and links between health systems arrangements and their effects on HT management are required, particularly in LMICs.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2008, one billion people, three-quarters of whom were living in low- and middle-income countries, had high blood pressure (hypertension). Worldwide, hypertension, which rarely has any symptoms, leads to about 7.5 million deaths annually from heart attacks, stroke, other cardiovascular diseases, and kidney disease. Hypertension, selected by the World Health Organization as the theme for World Health Day 2013, is diagnosed by measuring blood pressure, the force that blood circulating in the body exerts on the inside of large blood vessels. Blood pressure is highest when the heart is contracts to pump blood out (systolic blood pressure) and lowest when the heart relaxes and refills (diastolic blood pressure). Normal adult blood pressure is defined as a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and a diastolic blood pressure of less than 80 mmHg (a blood pressure of less than 120/80 mmHg). A blood pressure reading of more than 140/90 mmHg indicates hypertension. Many factors affect blood pressure, but overweight people and individuals who eat fatty or salty foods are at high risk of developing hypertension.
Why Was This Study Done?
Most individuals can achieve good hypertension control, which reduces death and disability from cardiovascular and kidney disease, by making lifestyle changes (mild hypertension) and/or by taking antihypertensive drugs. Yet, in both developed and developing countries, many people with hypertension are not aware of their condition and are not adequately treated. As with other chronic diseases, weaknesses in health care systems probably contribute to the inadequate treatment of hypertension. A health care system comprises all the organizations, institutions, and resources whose primary purpose is to improve health. Weaknesses in health care systems can exist at the national, regional, district, community, and household level. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic), the researchers investigate how national and regional health care system arrangements influence hypertension awareness, treatment, and control. Actions that might influence hypertension care at this level of health care systems include providing treatment for hypertension at no or reduced cost, the introduction of financial incentives to healthcare practitioners for the diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, and enhanced insurance coverage in countries such as the US where people pay for health care through insurance policies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 53 studies that analyzed whether regional or national health care systems arrangements were associated with patient awareness of hypertension, treatment of hypertension, adherence to antihypertensive medication treatment, and control of hypertension. The researchers used an established conceptual framework for health care systems and an approach called narrative synthesis to analyze the results of these studies, most of which were conducted in the US (36 studies) and other high-income countries (eight studies). Nearly all the studies evaluated the effects of health system financing on hypertension outcomes, although several looked at the effects of delivery and governance of health systems on these outcomes. The researchers' analysis revealed an association between reduced medication co-payments (drug costs that are not covered by health insurance and that are paid by patients in countries without universal free healthcare) and improved hypertension control and treatment adherence, mainly in US settings. In addition, in US settings, health insurance coverage was associated with improved hypertension outcomes, as was having a routine physician or place of care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that minimizing co-payments for health care and expansion of health insurance coverage in countries without universal free health care may improve the awareness, treatment, and control of hypertension. Although these findings are based mainly on US studies, they are likely to apply more generally but, importantly, these findings indicate that additional, high-quality studies are needed to unravel the impact of health systems arrangements on the management of hypertension. In particular, they reveal few studies in low- and middle-income countries where most of the global burden of hypertension lies and where weaknesses in health systems often result in deficiencies in the care of chronic diseases. Moreover, they highlight a need for studies that evaluate how aspects of health care systems other than financing (for example, delivery and governance mechanisms) and interactions between health care system arrangements affect hypertension outcomes. Without the results of such studies, governments and national and international organizations will not know the best ways to deal effectively with the global public-health crisis posed by hypertension.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001490.
The US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has patient information about high blood pressure (in English and Spanish)
The American Heart Association provides information on high blood pressure (in several languages) and personal stories about dealing with high blood pressure
The UK National Health Service (NHS) Choices website provides detailed information for patients about hypertension and a personal story about hypertension
The World Health Organization provides information on controlling blood pressure and on health systems (in several languages); its "A Global Brief on Hypertension" was published on World Health Day 2013
MedlinePlus provides links to further information about high blood pressure (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001490
PMCID: PMC3728036  PMID: 23935461
25.  Chemical and environmental vector control as a contribution to the elimination of visceral leishmaniasis on the Indian subcontinent: cluster randomized controlled trials in Bangladesh, India and Nepal 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:54.
Background
Bangladesh, India and Nepal are working towards the elimination of visceral leishmaniasis (VL) by 2015. In 2005 the World Health Organization/Training in Tropical Diseases launched an implementation research programme to support integrated vector management for the elimination of VL from Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The programme is conducted in different phases, from proof-of-concept to scaling up intervention. This study was designed in order to evaluate the efficacy of the three different interventions for VL vector management: indoor residual spraying (IRS); long-lasting insecticide treated nets (LLIN); and environmental modification (EVM) through plastering of walls with lime or mud.
Methods
Using a cluster randomized controlled trial we compared three vector control interventions with a control arm in 96 clusters (hamlets or neighbourhoods) in each of the 4 study sites: Bangladesh (one), India (one) and Nepal (two). In each site four villages with high reported VL incidences were included. In each village six clusters and in each cluster five households were randomly selected for sand fly collection on two consecutive nights. Control and intervention clusters were matched with average pre-intervention vector densities.
In each site six clusters were randomly assigned to each of the following interventions: indoor residual spraying (IRS); long-lasting insecticide treated nets (LLIN); environmental management (EVM) or control. All the houses (50-100) in each intervention cluster underwent the intervention measures. A reduction of intra-domestic sand fly densities measured in the study households by overnight US Centres for Disease Prevention and Control light trap captures (that is the number of sand flies per trap per night) was the main outcome measure.
Results
IRS, and to a lesser extent EVM and LLINs, significantly reduced sand fly densities for at least 5 months in the study households irrespective of type of walls or whether or not people shared their house with cattle. IRS was effective in all sites but LLINs were only effective in Bangladesh and India. Mud plastering did not reduce sand fly density (Bangladesh study); lime plastering in India and one Nepali site, resulted in a significant reduction of sand fly density but not in the second Nepali site.
Conclusion
Sand fly control can contribute to the regional VL elimination programme; IRS should be strengthened in India and Nepal but in Bangladesh, where vector control has largely been abandoned during the last decades, the insecticide treatment of existing bed nets (coverage above 90% in VL endemic districts) could bring about an immediate reduction of vector populations; operational research to inform policy makers about the efficacious options for VL vector control and programme performance should be strengthened in the three countries.
doi:10.1186/1741-7015-7-54
PMCID: PMC2763005  PMID: 19804620

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