A faecal contamination index for interpreting heterogeneous diarrhoea impacts of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions and overall, regional and country estimates of community sanitation coverage with a focus on low- and middle-income countries

Jennyfer Wolf, Richard Johnston, Paul Hunter, Bruce Gordon, Kate Medlicott, Annette Prüss-Ustün

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40 Citations (Scopus)
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Objectives: The impact on diarrhoea of sanitation interventions has been heterogeneous. We hypothesize that this is due to the level of prevailing faecal environmental contamination and propose a Faecal Contamination Index (FAECI) of selected WASH indicators (objective 1). Additionally, we provide estimates of the proportion of the population living in communities above certain sanitation coverage levels (objective 2).

Methods: Objective 1: Faecal contamination post-intervention was estimated from WASH intervention reports. WASH indicators composing the FAECI included eight water, sanitation and hygiene practice indicators, which were selected for their relevance for health and data availability at study- and country-level. The association between the estimated level of faecal environmental contamination and diarrhoea was examined using meta-regression. Objective 2: A literature search was conducted to identify health-relevant community sanitation coverage thresholds. To estimate total community coverage with basic sanitation in low- and middle-income countries, at relevant thresholds, household surveys with data available at primary sampling unit (PSU)-level were analysed according to the identified thresholds, at country-, regional- and overall level.

Results: Objective 1: We found a non-linear association between estimated environmental faecal contamination and sanitation interventions’ impact on diarrhoeal disease. Diarrhoea reductions were highest at lower faecal contamination levels, and no diarrhoea reduction was found when contamination increased above a certain level. Objective 2: Around 45% of the population lives in communities with more than 75% of coverage with basic sanitation and 24% of the population lives in communities above 95% coverage, respectively.

Conclusions: High prevailing faecal contamination might explain interventions' poor effectiveness in reducing diarrhoea. The here proposed Faecal Contamination Index is a first attempt to estimate the level of faecal contamination in communities. Much of the world's population currently lives in faecally contaminated environments as indicated by low community sanitation coverage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-282
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
Issue number2
Early online date30 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Sanitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Estimates
  • Fecal contamination
  • Sanitation coverage
  • Community

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