Where there is no toilet: water and sanitation environments of domestic and facility births in Tanzania

Lenka Benova, Oliver Cumming, Bruce A Gordon, Moke Magoma, Oona M R Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Inadequate water and sanitation during childbirth are likely to lead to poor maternal and newborn outcomes. This paper uses existing data sources to assess the water and sanitation (WATSAN) environment surrounding births in Tanzania in order to interrogate whether such estimates could be useful for guiding research, policy and monitoring initiatives.

METHODS: We used the most recent Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) to characterise the delivery location of births occurring between 2005 and 2010. Births occurring in domestic environments were characterised as WATSAN-safe if the home fulfilled international definitions of improved water and improved sanitation access. We used the 2006 Service Provision Assessment survey to characterise the WATSAN environment of facilities that conduct deliveries. We combined estimates from both surveys to describe the proportion of all births occurring in WATSAN-safe environments and conducted an equity analysis based on DHS wealth quintiles and eight geographic zones.

RESULTS: 42.9% (95% confidence interval: 41.6%-44.2%) of all births occurred in the woman's home. Among these, only 1.5% (95% confidence interval: 1.2%-2.0%) were estimated to have taken place in WATSAN-safe conditions. 74% of all health facilities conducted deliveries. Among these, only 44% of facilities overall and 24% of facility delivery rooms were WATSAN-safe. Combining the estimates, we showed that 30.5% of all births in Tanzania took place in a WATSAN-safe environment (range of uncertainty 25%-42%). Large wealth-based inequalities existed in the proportion of births occurring in domestic environments based on wealth quintile and geographical zone.

CONCLUSION: Existing data sources can be useful in national monitoring and prioritisation of interventions to improve poor WATSAN environments during childbirth. However, a better conceptual understanding of potentially harmful exposures and better data are needed in order to devise and apply more empirical definitions of WATSAN-safe environments, both at home and in facilities.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)e106738
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Delivery, Obstetric/standards
  • Developing Countries
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Home Childbirth/standards
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Health Services
  • Parturition
  • Sanitation/statistics & numerical data
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Tanzania
  • Water Supply/statistics & numerical data


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