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Preventing Waterborne Diseases: Analysis of a Community Health Worker Program in Rural Tamil Nadu, India

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Community health worker (CHW) programs have become popular tools in reducing the burden of childhood illnesses. However, the efficacy of CHWs in facilitating behavior change, as a means of preventing waterborne diseases, remains unclear. Using a household survey (n = 225),in rural Tamil Nadu, South India, we assessed the effects of a CHW program on knowledge, attitudes and practices related to diarrheal illness through comparison with a control population that was not enrolled in the program. The CHW program in the experimental village entailed behavior change aimed at preventing diarrheal illness through home visits, community events and health education. Correlates of four key variables on knowledge of drinking water contamination and behavior change were examined by using logistic regression models. We found that while the program was effective in raising awareness of drinking water contamination, it did not significantly increase hygiene and water sanitation practices in the village community in comparison to the control population. Furthermore, villagers enrolled in the CHW program were unable to recognize the connections between contaminated drinking water and disease. The results of our survey indicated the CHW program did not significantly affect behavior in the experimental village. Possible shortcomings in the program are discussed.

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The University Scholars Program at the University of Pennsylvania supported the study financially. Dr. Sullivan-Marx is partially supported by a grant from ICTPH to the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. In addition, we thank the entire staff at ICTPH for facilitating this study and helping to organize the research team in the villages. The study would not have been possible without the support and cooperation of the families in the study villages.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Neal Gupta.

Additional information

Thingalraj Mutukkanu and Alexander Nadimuthu contributed equally to this work.

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Gupta, N., Mutukkanu, T., Nadimuthu, A. et al. Preventing Waterborne Diseases: Analysis of a Community Health Worker Program in Rural Tamil Nadu, India. J Community Health 37, 513–519 (2012).

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  • Rural India
  • Community health worker
  • Diarrheal illness
  • Behavior change
  • Water treatment