A New Look at Population Health Through the Lenses of Cognitive, Functional and Social Disability Clustering in Eastern DR Congo: A Community-Based Cross-Sectional Study

BMC Public Health. 2019 Jan 21;19(1):93. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-6431-z.


Background: The importance of viewing health from a broader perspective than the mere presence or absence of disease is critical at primary healthcare level. However, there is scanty evidence-based stratification of population health using other criteria than morbidity-related indicators in developing countries. We propose a novel stratification of population health based on cognitive, functional and social disability and its covariates at primary healthcare level in DR Congo.

Method: We conducted a community-based cross-sectional study in adults with diabetes or hypertension, mother-infant pairs with child malnutrition, their informal caregivers and randomly selected neighbours in rural and sub-urban health zones in South-Kivu Province, DR Congo. We used the WHO Disability Assessment Schedule 2.0 (WHODAS) to measure functional, cognitive and social disability. The study outcome was health status clustering derived from a principal component analysis with hierarchical clustering around the WHODAS domains scores. We calculated adjusted odds ratios (AOR) using mixed-effects ordinal logistic regression.

Results: Of the 1609 respondents, 1266 had WHODAS data and an average age of 48.3 (SD: 18.7) years. Three hierarchical clusters were identified: 9.2% of the respondents were in cluster 3 of high dependency, 21.1% in cluster 2 of moderate dependency and 69.7% in cluster 1 of minor dependency. Associated factors with higher disability clustering were being a patient compared to being a neighbour (AOR: 3.44; 95% CI: 1.93-6.15), residency in rural Walungu health zone compared to semi-urban Bagira health zone (4.67; 2.07-10.58), female (2.1; 1.25-2.94), older (1.05; 1.04-1.07), poorest (2.60; 1.22-5.56), having had an acute illness 30 days prior to the interview (2.11; 1.24-3.58), and presenting with either diabetes or hypertension (2.73; 1.64-4.53) or both (6.37; 2.67-15.17). Factors associated with lower disability clustering were being informally employed (0.36; 0.17-0.78) or a petty trader/farmer (0.44; 0.22-0.85).

Conclusion: Health clustering derived from WHODAS domains has the potential to suitably classify individuals based on the level of health needs and dependency. It may be a powerful lever for targeting appropriate healthcare service provision and setting priorities based on vulnerability rather than solely presence of disease.

Keywords: Community; Disability; Eastern DR Congo; Health clustering; Medico-psychosocial; WHODAS.

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Congo / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Health*