A cash-based intervention and the risk of acute malnutrition in children aged 6–59 months living in internally displaced persons camps in Mogadishu, Somalia: A non-randomised cluster trial

by Carlos S. Grijalva-Eternod, Mohamed Jelle, Hassan Haghparast-Bidgoli, Tim Colbourn, Kate Golden, Sarah King, Cassy L. Cox, Joanna Morrison, Jolene Skordis-Worrall, Edward Fottrell, Andrew J. Seal

Background

Somalia has been affected by conflict since 1991, with children aged <5 years presenting a high acute malnutrition prevalence. Cash-based interventions (CBIs) have been used in this context since 2011, despite sparse evidence of their nutritional impact. We aimed to understand whether a CBI would reduce acute malnutrition and its risk factors.

Methods and findings

We implemented a non-randomised cluster trial in internally displaced person (IDP) camps, located in peri-urban Mogadishu, Somalia. Within 10 IDP camps (henceforth clusters) selected using a humanitarian vulnerability assessment, all households were targeted for the CBI. Ten additional clusters located adjacent to the intervention clusters were selected as controls. The CBI comprised a monthly unconditional cash transfer of US$84.00 for 5 months, a once-only distribution of a non-food-items kit, and the provision of piped water free of charge. The cash transfers started in May 2016. Cash recipients were female household representatives. In March and September 2016, from a cohort of randomly selected households in the intervention (n = 111) and control (n = 117) arms (household cohort), we collected household and individual level data from children aged 6–59 months (155 in the intervention and 177 in the control arms) and their mothers/primary carers, to measure known malnutrition risk factors. In addition, between June and November 2016, data to assess acute malnutrition incidence were collected monthly from a cohort of children aged 6–59 months, exhaustively sampled from the intervention (n = 759) and control (n = 1,379) arms (child cohort). Primary outcomes were the mean Child Dietary Diversity Score in the household cohort and the incidence of first episode of acute malnutrition in the child cohort, defined by a mid-upper arm circumference < 12.5 cm and/or oedema. Analyses were by intention-to-treat. For the household cohort we assessed differences-in-differences, for the child cohort we used Cox proportional hazards ratios. In the household cohort, the CBI appeared to increase the Child Dietary Diversity Score by 0.53 (95% CI 0.01; 1.05). In the child cohort, the acute malnutrition incidence rate (cases/100 child-months) was 0.77 (95% CI 0.70; 1.21) and 0.92 (95% CI 0.53; 1.14) in intervention and control arms, respectively. The CBI did not appear to reduce the risk of acute malnutrition: unadjusted hazard ratio 0.83 (95% CI 0.48; 1.42) and hazard ratio adjusted for age and sex 0.94 (95% CI 0.51; 1.74). The CBI appeared to increase the monthly household expenditure by US$29.60 (95% CI 3.51; 55.68), increase the household Food Consumption Score by 14.8 (95% CI 4.83; 24.8), and decrease the Reduced Coping Strategies Index by 11.6 (95% CI 17.5; 5.96). The study limitations were as follows: the study was not randomised, insecurity in the field limited the household cohort sample size and collection of other anthropometric measurements in the child cohort, the humanitarian vulnerability assessment data used to allocate the intervention were not available for analysis, food market data were not available to aid results interpretation, and the malnutrition incidence observed was lower than expected.

Conclusions

The CBI appeared to improve beneficiaries’ wealth and food security but did not appear to reduce acute malnutrition risk in IDP camp children. Further studies are needed to assess whether changing this intervention, e.g., including specific nutritious foods or social and behaviour change communication, would improve its nutritional impact.

Trial registration

ISRCTN Registy ISRCTN29521514.

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