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Impact of tubewell access and tubewell depth on childhood diarrhea in Matlab, Bangladesh

Jianyong Wu1, Mohammad Yunus2, Peter Kim Streatfield2, Alexander van Geen3, Veronica Escamilla45, Yasuyuki Akita1, Marc Serre1 and Michael Emch45*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC USA

2 International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh

3 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, NY USA

4 Department of Geography, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC USA

5 Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC USA

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Environmental Health 2011, 10:109  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-10-109

Published: 22 December 2011



During the past three decades in Bangladesh, millions of tubewells have been installed to reduce the prevalence of diarrheal disease. This study evaluates the impacts of tubewell access and tubewell depth on childhood diarrhea in rural Bangladesh.


A total of 59,796 cases of diarrhea in children under 5 were recorded in 142 villages of Matlab, Bangladesh during monthly community health surveys between 2000 and 2006. The location and depth of 12,018 tubewells were surveyed in 2002-04 and integrated with diarrhea and other data in a geographic information system. A proxy for tubewell access was developed by calculating the local density of tubewells around households. Logistic regression models were built to examine the relationship between childhood diarrhea, tubewell density and tubewell depth. Wealth, adult female education, flood control, population density and the child's age were considered as potential confounders.


Baris (patrilineally-related clusters of households) with greater tubewell density were associated with significantly less diarrhea (OR (odds ratio) = 0.87, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.85-0.89). Tubewell density had a greater influence on childhood diarrhea in areas that were not protected from flooding. Baris using intermediate depth tubewells (140-300 feet) were associated with more childhood diarrhea (OR = 1.24, 95% CI: 1.19-1.29) than those using shallow wells (10-140 feet). Baris using deep wells (300-990 feet) had less diarrheal disease than those using shallow wells, however, the difference was significant only when population density was low (< 1000 person/km2) or children were at the age of 13-24 months.


Increased access to tubewells is associated with a lower risk of childhood diarrhea. Intermediate- depth wells are associated with more childhood diarrhea compared to shallower or deeper wells. These findings may have implications for on-going efforts to reduce exposure to elevated levels of arsenic contained in groundwater that is pumped in this study area primarily from shallow tubewells.

Diarrheal disease; tubewell; groundwater; arsenic