Effect of distributing locally produced cloth facemasks on COVID-19-like illness and all-cause mortality-a cluster-randomised controlled trial in urban Guinea-Bissau

Line M Nanque, Andreas M Jensen, Arthur Diness, Sebastian Nielsen, Carlos Cabral, Dylan Cawthorne, Justiniano S D Martins, Elsi J C Ca, Kjeld Jensen, Cesario L Martins, Amabelia Rodrigues, Ane B Fisker

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Facemasks have been employed to mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The community effect of providing cloth facemasks on COVID-19 morbidity and mortality is unknown. In a cluster randomised trial in urban Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, clusters (geographical areas with an average of 19 houses), were randomised to an intervention or control arm using computer-generated random numbers. Between 20 July 2020 and 22 January 2021, trial participants (aged 10+ years) living in intervention clusters (n = 90) received two 2-layer cloth facemasks, while facemasks were only distributed later in control clusters (n = 91). All participants received information on COVID-19 prevention. Trial participants were followed through a telephone interview for COVID-19-like illness (3+ symptoms), care seeking, and mortality for 4 months. End-of-study home visits ensured full mortality information and distribution of facemasks to the control group. Individual level information on outcomes by trial arm was compared in logistic regression models with generalised estimating equation-based correction for cluster. Facemasks use was mandated. Facemask use in public areas was assessed by direct observation. We enrolled 39,574 trial participants among whom 95% reported exposure to groups of >20 persons and 99% reported facemasks use, with no difference between trial arms. Observed use was substantially lower (~40%) with a 3%, 95%CI: 0-6% absolute difference between control and intervention clusters. Half of those wearing a facemask wore it correctly. Few participants (532, 1.6%) reported COVID-19-like illness; proportions did not differ by trial arm: Odds Ratio (OR) = 0.81, 95%CI: 0.57-1.15. 177 (0.6%) participants reported consultations and COVID-19-like illness (OR = 0.83, 95%CI: 0.56-1.24); 89 participants (0.2%) died (OR = 1.34, 95%CI: 0.89-2.02). Hence, though trial participants were exposed to many people, facemasks were mostly not worn or not worn correctly. Providing facemasks and messages about correct use did not substantially increase their use and had limited impact on morbidity and mortality. Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov: NCT04471766.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0002901
JournalPLOS Global Public Health
Issue number2
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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