Background: Lack of access to safe and secure water is an international issue recognized by the United Nations. To address this problem, the One Million Cisterns Project was initiated in 2001 in Brazil's semi-arid region to provide a sustainable source of water to households. The objectives of this study were to determine the 30-day period prevalence of diarrhoea in individuals with and without cisterns and determine symptomology, duration of illness and type of health care sought among those with diarrhoea. A subgroup analysis was also conducted among children less than five years old.
Methods: A face-to-face survey was conducted between August 20th and September 20th, 2007 in the Agreste Central Region of Pernambuco State, Brazil. Households with and without a cistern that had at least one child under the age of five years were selected using systematic convenient sampling. Differences in health outcomes between groups were assessed using Pearson's Chi-squared and two-way t-tests. Demographic variables were tested for univariable associations with diarrhoea using logistic regression with random effects. P-values of 0.05 or less were considered statistically significant.
Results: A total of 3679 people from 774 households were included in the analysis (1863 people from 377 households with cisterns and 1816 people from 397 households without cisterns). People from households with a cistern had a significantly lower 30-day period prevalence of diarrhoea (prevalence = 11.0%; 95% CI 9.5-12.4) than people from households without a cistern (prevalence = 18.2%; 95% CI 16.4-20.0). This significant difference was also found in a subgroup analysis of children under five years old; those children with a cistern had a 30-day period prevalence of 15.6% (95% CI 12.3-18.9) versus 26.7% (95% CI 22.8-30.6) in children without a cistern. There were no significant differences between those people with and without cisterns in terms of the types of symptoms, duration of illness and health care sought for diarrhoea.
Conclusions: Our results indicate that the use of cisterns for drinking water is associated with a decreased occurrence of diarrhoea in this study population. Further research accounting for additional risk factors and preventative factors should be conducted.