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Urban sanitation coverage and environmental fecal contamination: Links between the household and public environments of Accra, Ghana

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Exposure to faecal contamination in public areas, especially in dense, urban environments, may significantly contribute to gastrointestinal infection risk. This study examined associations between sanitation and faecal contamination in public environments in four low-income neighbourhoods in Accra, Ghana. Soil and open drain samples were tested for E. coli, adenovirus, and norovirus. Sanitation facilities in surveyed households were categorised by onsite faecal sludge containment (“contained” vs. “uncontained”) using previous Joint Monitoring Program infrastructure guidelines.

Most sanitation facilities were shared by multiple households. Associations between spatial clustering of household sanitation coverage and faecal contamination were examined, controlling for neighbourhood and population density. E. coli concentrations in drains within 50 metres of clusters of contained household sanitation were more than three log-units lower than those outside of clusters. Further, although results were not always statistically significant, E. coli concentrations in drains showed consistent trends with household sanitation coverage clusters: concentrations were lower in or near clusters of high coverage of household sanitation facilities—especially contained facilities—and vice versa. Virus detection in drains and E. coli concentrations in soil were not significantly associated with clustering of any type of household sanitation and did not exhibit consistent trends.

Population density alone was not significantly associated with any of the faecal contamination outcomes and was a significant, yet inconsistent, effect modifier of the association between sanitation clusters and E. coli concentrations. These findings suggest clustering of contained household sanitation, even when shared, may be associated with lower levels of faecal contamination within drains in the immediate public domain. Further research is needed to better quantify these relationships and examine impacts on health.

Date: 26 July 2018