Effect of in-line drinking water chlorination at the point of collection on child diarrhoea in urban Bangladesh: a double-blind, cluster-randomised controlled trial

Elsevier, The Lancet Global Health, Volume 7, September 2019
Pickering A.J., Crider Y., Sultana S., Swarthout J., Goddard F.G., Anjerul Islam S. et al.

Background: Previous blinded trials of household water treatment interventions in low-income settings have failed to detect a reduction in child diarrhoea. Technological advances have enabled the development of automated in-line chlorine dosers that can disinfect drinking water without electricity, while also allowing users to continue their typical water collection practices. We aimed to evaluate the effect of installing novel passive chlorination devices at shared water points on child diarrhoea prevalence in low-income, densely populated communities in urban Bangladesh. Methods: In this double-blind cluster-randomised controlled trial, 100 shared water points (clusters) in two low-income urban communities in Bangladesh were randomly assigned (1:1) to have their drinking water automatically chlorinated at the point of collection by a solid tablet chlorine doser (intervention group) or to be treated by a visually identical doser that supplied vitamin C (active control group). The trial followed an open cohort design; all children younger than 5 years residing in households accessing enrolled water points were measured every 2–3 months during a 14-month follow-up period (children could migrate into or out of the cluster). The primary outcome was caregiver-reported child diarrhoea (≥3 loose or watery stools in a 24-h period [WHO criteria]) with a 1-week recall, including all available childhood observations in the analyses. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT02606981, and is completed. Findings: Between July 5, 2015, and Nov 11, 2015, 100 water points with 920 eligible households were enrolled into the study and randomly assigned to the treatment (50 water points; 517 children at baseline; 2073 child observations included in the primary analysis) or control groups (50; 519; 2154). Children in the treatment group had less WHO-defined diarrhoea than did children in the control group (control 216 [10·0%] of 2154; treatment 156 [7·5%] of 2073; prevalence ratio 0·77, 95% CI 0·65–0·91). Drinking water at the point of collection at treatment taps had detectable free chlorine residual 83% (mean 0·37 ppm) of the time compared with 0% at control taps (0·00 ppm). Interpretation: Passive chlorination at the point of collection could be an effective and scalable strategy in low-income urban settings for reducing child diarrhoea and for achieving global progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 6.1 to attain universal access to safe and affordable drinking water. Targeting a low chlorine residual (<0·5 ppm) in treated water can increase taste acceptability of chlorinated drinking water while still reducing the risk of diarrhoea. Funding: The World Bank.