Background: Young children frequently defecate in the living environment in low-income countries. Unsafe child feces disposal has been associated with risk of diarrhea. Additionally, reported practices can underestimate socially undesirable unhygienic behaviors. This analysis aimed to assess (1) the sensitivity of reported child feces disposal practices as an indicator for observed presence of human feces in the domestic environment, (2) household characteristics associated with reported unsafe feces disposal and (3) whether unsafe feces disposal is associated with fly presence and diarrhea among children <3 years.
Methods: We recorded caregiver-reported feces disposal practices for children <3 years; unsafe disposal was defined as feces put/rinsed into a drain, ditch, bush or garbage heap or left on the ground and safe disposal as feces put/rinsed into latrine or specific pit or buried. We conducted spot checks for human feces, counted flies in the compound and recorded caregiver-reported child diarrhea prevalence among 803 rural Bangladeshi households. We assessed associations using generalized estimating equations (GEE) and generalized linear models (GLM) with robust standard errors.
Results: Unsafe disposal of child feces was reported by 80% of households. Reported disposal practices had high sensitivity (91%) but low positive predictive value (15%) as an indicator of observed feces in the compound. Unsafe disposal was more common among households that reported daily adult open defecation (PR: 1.13, 1.02-1.24) and had children defecating in a nappy or on the ground versus in a potty (PR: 2.92, 1.98-4.32), and less common in households where adults reported always defecating in latrines (PR: 0.91, 0.84-0.98). The presence of observed human feces was similarly associated with these household characteristics. Reported unsafe feces disposal or observed human feces were not associated with fly detection or child diarrhea.
Conclusion: Despite access to on-site sanitation, unsafe child feces disposal was reported by the majority of households. However, this practices was not associated with diarrhea; suggesting that child feces may not be the most important fecal exposure. Before resources are invested to improve child feces management practices, studies should explore whether these contribute meaningfully to risk of enteric disease.