BACKGROUND: Recording behaviours that have the potential to impact health can be doubly challenging if the behaviour takes place in private spaces that cannot be observed directly, and where respondents answer what they think the recorder may want to hear. Sleeping under a long-lasting insecticidal net (LLIN) is an important intervention for malaria prevention, yet it is difficult to gauge the extent to which coverage (how many nets are in the community) differs from usage (how many people actually sleep under a net). List randomization, a novel method which partially obscures respondents' answers to sensitive questions, was employed to estimate LLIN usage in The Gambia. METHODS: 802 heads-of-household from 15 villages were recruited into a randomized controlled trial assessing the effect of a housing intervention on malaria. These houses were randomly assigned to a housing intervention versus control, with stratification by village so as to ensure balance between arms. From these, 125 households (63 intervention, 52 control) were randomly selected for participation in the list randomization experiment, along with 68 households from the same villages but which were not part of the housing improvement study, resulting in a total of 196 households for the list randomization experiment. Approximately half (n = 97) of the 196 study participants were randomly assigned to the control group and received a four-question list about non-sensitive behaviours; the intervention group (n = 99) received the same list, with the addition of one question on a sensitive behaviour: whether or not they had used a bed net the previous night. Participants were read the list of questions and then said how many of the statements were true. Bed net usage was estimated by calculating the difference in means between the number of affirmative responses between the two groups. RESULTS: The mean number of affirmative responses in the control group was 2.60 of four statements (95% confidence interval, 95% CI 2.50-2.70), compared with 3.68 (95% CI 3.59-3.78) in the intervention group. Such difference (1.08; 95% CI 94.9-100%) suggests near universal bed net usage. CONCLUSIONS: Bed net usage by household heads in these rural villages was found to be high. Though not entirely unexpected given other studies' estimates of high bed net usage in the area, the list randomization method should be further validated in an area with lower coverage.
- List randomization
- Long-lasting insecticidal nets