Abstract Acute lower respiratory illnesses (ALRI) are the leading cause of death among children <5 years. Studies have found that biomass cooking fuels are an important risk factor for ALRI. However, few studies have evaluated the influence of natural household ventilation indicators on ALRI. The purpose of this study was to assess the association between cooking fuel, natural household ventilation, and ALRI. During October 17, 2004–September 30, 2005, children <5 years living in a low-income neighborhood of Dhaka, Bangladesh, were assessed weekly for ALRI and surveyed quarterly about biomass fuel use, electric fan ownership, and natural household ventilation (windows, ventilation grates, and presence of a gap between the wall and ceiling). Bivariate and multivariate analyses were performed using generalized estimating equations. Six thousand and seventy-nine children <5 years enrolled during the study period (99% participation) experienced 1291 ALRI. In the multivariate model, ≥2 windows [OR = 0.75, 95% CI = (0.58, 0.96)], ventilation grates [OR = 0.80, 95% CI = (0.65, 0.98)], and not owning an electric fan [OR = 1.50, 95% CI = (1.21, 1.88)] were associated with ALRI; gap presence and using biomass fuels were not associated with ALRI. Structural factors that might improve household air circulation and exchange were associated with decreased ALRI risk. Improved natural ventilation might reduce ALRI among children in low-income families.
The World Health Organization has stated that controlling pneumonia is a priority for achieving the fourth Millennium Development Goal, which calls for a two-third reduction in mortality of children <5 years old compared to the 1990 baseline. Our study represents an important finding of a modifiable risk factor that might decrease the burden of respiratory illness among children living in Bangladesh and other low-income settings similar to our study site. We found that the existence of at least two windows in the child’s sleeping room was associated with a 25% decreased ALRI risk. Increasing available natural ventilation within the household in similar settings has the potential to reduce childhood mortality because of acute lower respiratory illnesses.