Assessment of Fecal Exposure Pathways in Low-Income Urban Neighborhoods in Accra, Ghana: Rationale, Design, Methods, and Key Findings of the SaniPath Study

Publisher: The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (online ahead of print)
Jul 17, 2017
Katharine Robb, Clair Null, Peter Teunis, Habib Yakubu, George Armah, and Christine L. Moe
Rapid urbanization has contributed to an urban sanitation crisis in low-income countries. Residents in low-income, urban neighborhoods often have poor sanitation infrastructure and services and may experience frequent exposure to fecal contamination through a range of pathways. There are little data to prioritize strategies to decrease exposure to fecal contamination in these complex and highly contaminated environments, and public health priorities are rarely considered when planning urban sanitation investments. The SaniPath Study addresses this need by characterizing pathways of exposure to fecal contamination. Over a 16-month period, an in-depth, interdisciplinary exposure assessment was conducted in both public and private domains of four neighborhoods in Accra, Ghana. Microbiological analyses of environmental samples and behavioral data collection techniques were used to quantify fecal contamination in the environment and characterize the behaviors of adults and children associated with exposure to fecal contamination. Environmental samples (n = 1,855) were collected and analyzed for fecal indicators and enteric pathogens. A household survey with 800 respondents and over 500 hours of structured observation of young children were conducted. Approximately 25% of environmental samples were collected in conjunction with structured observations (n=441 samples). The study results highlight widespread and often high levels of fecal contamination in the public and private domains and food supply. The dominant fecal exposure pathway for young children in the household was through consumption of uncooked produce. The SaniPath Study provides critical information on exposure to fecal contamination in low-income, urban environments and ultimately can inform investments and policies to reduce these public health risks.