Original Research: Inactivation of pathogens in ecological sanitation latrines in Malawi: An observational follow up study

Save Kumwenda

Keywords: sanitation, guidelines, safety, pathogens, follow-up, risk, Malawi


In Malawi, EcoSan sludge from ecological sanitation (EcoSan) latrines has been found to contain helminths, Salmonella and E. coli above WHO recommended levels making sludge unsuitable for direct handling and use on food crops. This research investigated survival of pathogens in EcoSan sludge with time after sealing the pit.

An observational longitudinal follow-up study was conducted where EcoSan latrines were followed from August 2015 to July 2016 in Blantyre and Chikwawa in Southern Malawi. The study enrolled 51 latrines in total with 35 latrines [13 fossa alterna (FAs) and 22 urine diverting dry latrines (UDDLs)] remaining at the end of study. Samples were collected five times from each latrine and examined for helminths, Salmonella and E. coli in the laboratory. Poisson regression was employed to assess factors that significantly contribute to pathogen die off at p<0.05.

Average concentrations of all pathogens investigated reduced over 12-month follow-up period except for Salmonella which increased. A. lumbricoides, increased to 2.3 viable eggs during the second sampling and decreased to 0.4 viable eggs per gram after 12 months of follow-up. Time was the only consistent predictor for concentration of helminths. Type of latrine and location were not significant predictors of helminths concentration (p>0.05). However, Salmonella and E. coli colonies were significantly higher in UDDLs (Blantyre) than FAs (Chikwawa) (p<0.05).
Pathogen concentration was highest after recommended six months of storage posing a public health risk to those handling and using it for agriculture purposes. It is therefore recommended that the current guidelines be reviewed to suit Malawi context. A storage period of one year or more is recommended.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1995-7262
print ISSN: 1995-7262

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