Annals of African Medicine

: 2012  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 217--221

Prevalence of diarrhea disease and risk factors in Jos University Teaching Hospital, Nigeria

Christopher S Yilgwan, SN Okolo 
 Department of Paediatrics, Jos University Teaching Hospital, PMB 2076, Jos, Nigeria

Correspondence Address:
Christopher S Yilgwan
Department of Paediatrics, Jos University Teaching Hospital, PMB 2076, Jos


Background: Diarrhea is widely recognized as a major cause of childhood morbidity and mortality in many developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. According to World Health Organization (WHO) report in the African region, diarrheal diseases are still leading causes of mortality and morbidity in children under five years of age. This same report indicates that each child in the said region has five episodes of diarrhea per year and that 800,000 die each year from diarrhea and dehydration. Materials and Methods: This study examined diarrheal morbidity and associated risk factors in children under five years in Jos. A total of 340 children were seen in the Diarrhea Training Unit (DTU) of the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), Jos, over a period of 24 months (Jan 2008-Dec 2009). A semi-structured interviewer administered questionnaire was used to generate the data. All women whose children presented with diarrhea were interviewed and data generated analyzed using Epi info version 3.5.1 statistical software. Results: During the study period, 13,076 children were seen in our facility, of which 340 were suffering from diarrhea, thus giving a diarrhea prevalence of 2.7%. There were 183 (54%) male and 157 (40%) female children seen with diarrhea. The mean age was 11 ± 8.5 months. The mean duration of diarrhea was found to be 4 ± 3.6 days. A majority of children were aged less than 6 months, consisting of 235 infants, 95 toddlers, and 10 pre-schoolers. Of the number of women seen, 242 (61%) had at least primary education, while 98 (29%) had no formal education. Diarrheal episodes were found to have a bivariate association with mothers«SQ» educational status, family type, family size, breastfeeding, and sex of child. However, only mother«SQ»s educational status, diarrhea in other sibling, and breast feeding were significantly associated with the occurrence of diarrhea. Although there were more male children with diarrhea, the odds of having diarrhea was not significantly related to sex. Conclusion: Our study demonstrated an important relationship between diarrheal morbidity and low maternal education, nonexclusively breastfed infant, and previous diarrheal episode in a sibling. It thus meant that diarrhea morbidity is still an important problem for infants in our environment. Moreover, maternal education and exclusive breastfeeding are still relevant viable measures in curbing diarrhea in infants.

How to cite this article:
Yilgwan CS, Okolo S N. Prevalence of diarrhea disease and risk factors in Jos University Teaching Hospital, Nigeria.Ann Afr Med 2012;11:217-221

How to cite this URL:
Yilgwan CS, Okolo S N. Prevalence of diarrhea disease and risk factors in Jos University Teaching Hospital, Nigeria. Ann Afr Med [serial online] 2012 [cited 2022 May 16 ];11:217-221
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Diarrhoeal disease remains one of the most important causes of morbidity and mortality in developing countries, especially in African countries. [1] Diarrhea is defined as an abnormal increase in daily stool fluidity, frequency, and volume from what is considered normal for an individual. [2] Diarrhea kills an estimated 2.5 million people each year, with about 60-70% of them being children under five years of age. [3],[4] The disease is responsible for over a quarter of the deaths of children in the world today. [5] Most of these deaths occur in developing countries where an estimated 25% of under-five mortality is directly attributed to diarrhea disease. [3],[4],[5]

Despite the widespread use of oral rehydration therapy (ORT), the incidence of acute diarrheal diseases has not decline much, though a substantial reduction in annual diarrheal deaths from 4.5 million in the 1980s to the present level of about 2 million children is attributable to the promotion of ORT. [3] This is because most populations of the world, especially developing countries, lack access to potable water and are still afflicted by poverty, poor sanitation, and lack of hygiene. ORT is an important tool in the prevention of dehydration resulting from diarrhea. Mothers all over the world, especially in developing countries, have been taught the types, use, and importance of this all important tool with regard to diarrhea and its attendant sequelae in antenatal clinics and child welfare. Moreover, even print and electronic media are other ways of giving health education. [6],[7] Also, basic hygiene, household sanitation and adequate appropriate feeds are emphasized in different health clinics and well child visits. Although these efforts have been shown to decrease the severity of acute diarrheal episodes and sharply reduce the number of subsequent death, [3],[7] a large number of children are still afflicted with diarrhea that has a negative impact on their growth and development.

Many cases of acute diarrhea may be treated at home or may recover without any treatment, but a few children may develop severe dehydration and so will necessitate emergency room care with intravenous fluids.

Studies have been conducted in the past to establish risk factors diarrhea. In Ethiopia, Yohannes and his colleagues [8] found the incidence of diarrhea to be higher in the second half of the infant's life when inborn immunity is weak and exposure to contaminated weaning foods increases. They also showed that children living in households with some kind of toilet facility are less likely to be sick than children in households that do not have toilet facilities. Lack of access to a toilet facility is associated with a high incidence of diarrhoea. [9] The greatest reductions in diarrhoea are associated with flush toilets compared with pit latrines. [10] Public latrines are generally unhygienic and unhealthy for children due to the presence of flies and dirty floors, which promote infections such as cholera, shigella, salmonella, and rotavirus, all of which have been shown to be major causes of diarrhea in children. [9],[10] The same study indicates that the prevalence of diarrhea varies according to education of mother, being significantly lower among children of more educated mothers than among children of mothers with no education. This is probably because education provides the knowledge of the rules of hygiene, feeding and weaning practices, and the interpretation of symptoms which enhances timely action on childhood illness. [10]

The aim of the present study was to assess the prevalence of diarrhea among children aged 6-60 months presenting to the diarrhea training unit (DTU) of the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) by collecting current and reliable information on the incidence and some determinants of acute diarrheal diseases, with a view of adding to the existing body of knowledge as well as help in policy change that will improve childcare in Nigeria.

 Materials and Methods

A total of 350 children were studied between January 2008 and December 2009. Data were collected by interviewing mothers and prepared questionnaires were completed by the researchers and residents in the DTU. The information obtained were as folllows: parents' age, literacy level and occupation, number of children aged 6-60 months in the family, gender, number of passage of loose stools per day, and duration of acute diarrhea. Finally, the prevalence of acute diarrhea during the past 24 months was calculated among children aged 6-60 months and its association with sociodemographic, environmental, and domestic factors was evaluated.

In this study, acute diarrhea was defined as the passage of three or more loose or watery stools per day, lasting less than 14 days. Data were analyzed using Epi info version 3.5.1 statistical software and Chi-square and t test were used to compare proportions and means, respectively.


General characteristics

During the study period spanning 2 years, a total of 23,876 children were seen in our emergency pediatric unit, of which 350 presented with diarrhea, giving a diarrhea prevalence of 1.5%. Among the children seen with diarrhea 185 (54%) were male and 168 (40%) female. The mean age was 11 ± 8.5 months. The mean duration of diarrhea was found to be 4±3.6 days. Most children were aged 6 months (infants, 69%; toddlers, 28%' and pre-schoolers, 3%) [Table 1]. A total of 143 (40.9%) children were exclusively breastfed while 207 (59.1%) were not. Of the number of children not exclusively breastfed, 15 were HIV exposed neonates on breast milk substitute.{Table 1}

A total of 189 (54%) mothers had recevied at least primary education, while 161 (46%) had no formal education [Figure 1]. There is a trend towards being underweight as the age increases in both sexes as depicted by the weight for age z scores [Figure 2]. Similarly, from the age of 20 months onwards, the children are stunted [Figure 3].{Figure 1}{Figure 2}{Figure 3}

Duration of Diarrhea Vs Some Risk Factors

[Table 1] shows the results of testing the association of five factors found to influence diarrhea in previous studies. The duration of diarrhea has bivariate associations with mother's educational status, sex of child, breastfeeding, family type, diarrhea in other siblings and place of residence. Only three variables reached the statistical significance level (P < 0.05) in the logistic regression multivariable model predicting duration of diarrhea. Mother's educational status (odds ratio [OR] = 0.0769, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.01-1.47), breastfeeding (OR = 0.73, 95% CI = 0.41-1.27), and diarrhea in other siblings (OR = 0.73, 95% CI = 0.40-1.19).


The present study examined children presenting to the diarrhea training unit of JUTH and found a prevalence of 2.6%. This value is lower than that reported by Kolahi et al.[11] in Iran, reporting a prevalence of 10.3%. This is also lower than the prevalence reported by Shah [12] et al. in India. However, Shah studied children aged less than 3 years, in whom we know even in the present study to have a high risk of diarrhea. The low prevalence of diarrhea recorded in the present study may not be unconnected with the success of the child survival strategies instituted in the past decades, which aimed at enlightening and educating mothers on common childhood ailments, immunization, breastfeeding, and nutrition, all of which have been shown to reduce the incidence of diarrhea. The diarrhea training unit in JUTH, apart from managing cases of diarrhea, provides education on diarrhea prevention and home management to mothers presenting to our facility. This enlightenment might have succeeded in empowering the mothers with skills for home management of diarrhea, and thus reducing the number of children necessitating hospital care for the same. [13],[14],[15]

This study also found more boys than girls presenting with diarrhea. This is in contrast with the higher number of girls reported by Kolahi et al. in Iran [11] Shah et al. in Pakistan, [12] and Gascon [16] in Tanzania. The reason for our finding is not known but may be connected with the cultural practices in our country where there is preference for boys over girls, which could also affect care giving.

Infants form the largest group with diarrhea, especially those around 6 months of age, which is similar to what other researchers have reported. [3],[5],[11],[12],[13],[16],[17] Also, a large proportion of these cases of diarrhea seen in this age group were among those not exclusively breastfed, and thus conferring higher odds of having diarrhea [Table 2]. Exclusive breastfeeding in infancy is known to protect against diarrhea with maternally acquired antibodies helping to fight infective agents responsible for the disease. However, at this stage, there is a general decline in these antibodies and more so in those not exclusively breastfed, and hence the high risk of developing diarrhea. Besides, complementary feeds are usually introduced at this stage with an attendant increase risk of contamination, especially in the developing world like ours where safe water and basic sanitation is lacking. It was also noticed that 15 of these infants were neonates on breast milk substitute. These are HIV-exposed neonates residing in rural areas where safe water and basic hygiene are unavailable. Early Introduction of complementary feeds has been shown to increase the risk of diarrhea due to possible contamination of the feeds. [16] {Table 2}

Most children were wasted, with their weight for age scores below the mean for age. Diarrhea has major effects on the nutrition of the child, with loss of nutrients as the main pathopysiologic mechanism. [13] Also, most mothers tend to withhold feeds during episodes of diarrhea thinking that will reduce the stool bulk, and hence stop the disease. Besides, the diarrhea episode, which usually results from infection places a metabolic demand on the child and if it is recurrent, it will affect the growth and development of the child with consequent malnutrition setting in, which thus brings in a cascade of vicious cycle. [18]

The risk of having diarrhea was also found to be higher in children whose mothers had no formal education. This is similar to reports by Dikassa et al. [14] in Congo and Ekanem et al. [6] in Lagos, Nigeria. Both studies were case control and demonstrated a strong association between the risk of having diarrhea and low or no education in mothers. Education is a vital tool in enlightening mothers and also changing their healthcare seeking behavior and practice. [10],[11],[12],[16],[17] This knowledge is said to affect their behavior, especially as it relates to child rearing practices and healthcare. For example, Ahmed et al. [15] in Sudan found that illiterate mothers in rural areas were more likely to stop breastfeeding their child who developed diarrhea and resort to traditional remedies such as gum cautery in an attempt to stop teething. However, Okunribido and his colleagues [19] found a slightly different scenario in their study of cultural perceptions of diarrhea management among Yoruba women, where they reported a high likelihood of combination of western and traditional remedies, even though a few were inclined towards western remedies alone.


This study indicates that maternal education bears a significant impact on morbidity caused by diarrhea. Educated mothers are more exposed to the importance of hygiene, better childcare and feeding practices, and are more aware of disease causation factors and preventive measures. The present study indicates that there is an urgent need for effective intervention measures to curtail the incidence of diarrhea among children. Also, health intervention programs, including exclusive breast feeding, which enhance children's physiological resistance against diseases, and maternal hygiene education should be strengthened in order to reduce the incidence of diarrhea. It is hoped that the results of the study will provide guidance for policy makers in formulating strategies to improve child health in Nigeria.


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