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SNAPSHOT: Childhood Diarrhea in West Africa

Diarrhea is a leading cause of malnutrition in young children and is the second leading cause of death globally among children under 5. A quarter of all cases occur in Africa, with a particularly high incidence in West Africa. 

According to a new study published in the journal Spatial and Spatiotemporal Epidemiology, poverty, dry weather and city living increase the risk of childhood diarrhea in West Africa. Low parental education levels and large households (i.e., the number of people living under one roof) were also all associated with a higher incidence of childhood diarrhea.

The Geo-Spatial Distribution of Childhood Diarrheal Disease in West Africa, 2008-2013: A Covariate-Adjusted Cluster AnalysisDunn, G and Johnson GD. 2018. The Geo-Spatial Distribution of Childhood Diarrheal Disease in West Africa, 2008-2013: A Covariate-Adjusted Cluster Analysis

The study was conducted by Professor Glen Johnson of CUNY’s Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, and Gillian Dunn, of Hawaii Pacific University.

They found the risk of diarrhea was 58 percent higher for children in the poorest 20 percent of households than in the wealthiest 20 percent, and 72 percent higher in urban areas compared to rural areas. Historically, urban dwellers have had lower rates of diarrhea, but the authors attributed the increased risk found in this study to a growing poverty in West African cities.

Hot, dry weather increased the risk as well. Low rainfall “can concentrate pathogens in drinking water, lead to food insecurity and malnutrition, and increase fly activity,” the authors wrote.

The authors support development programs that help families understand the importance of clean water, increase economic opportunities, and ensure that the youngest, most vulnerable children have greatest access to clean water.