Improving rural sanitation by 65 percent could save as many as 1.2 million lives a year worldwide, scientists in Pennsylvania conclude in a new study on diarrheal disease. Their report, in the current edition of ACS' semi-monthly journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that developing countries in Africa and Asia would experience the greatest savings in life.
In the study, Sean T. Green and colleagues note that diarrhea causes 2.2 million deaths a year worldwide. It is the third leading cause of childhood mortality after neonatal disorders and respiratory infections. Many previous studies have tried to identify the factors that contribute to child mortality. Only a few, however, have evaluated the factors contributing to diarrheal disease at a national level, leaving a major information gap on the topic.
The researchers developed a new computer model for that purpose using an artificial intelligence technique called Classification and Regression Trees. They used it to predict diarrheal illness nationally, based on data from 192 countries. Using the model, the scientists identified improvements in rural sanitation — such as providing safe disposal of feces —as the measure in their study with the single greatest impact in reducing deaths from diarrheal disease.
"The most important variable for reducing diarrheal illness in the worst afflicted countries is rural sanitation, a message that can be obscured with a 'one size fits all' linear regression model" like those used in the past, the researchers said.
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