Context: During 1999 and 2000, approximately 10 million people were affected by famine in Ethiopia. Results of nutrition assessments and surveys conducted by humanitarian organizations were used by donors and government agencies to determine needs for food aid and to make other decisions on geographic allocation of limited resources; however, accurate results might have been hampered by methodological errors. Objectives: To identify common methodological errors in nutrition assessments and surveys and to provide practical recommendations for improvement. Design and Setting Nutrition assessments and surveys (n=125) conducted by 14 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 54 woredas (districts) in Ethiopia from May 1, 1999, through July 31, 2000. Surveys were ranked as valid and precise according to 5 criteria: use of population proportional to size sampling, sample size, number of clusters, number of children per cluster, and use of weight-for-height index. Main Outcome Measures: Number and proportion of surveys that used standard, internationally accepted methods and reported valid and precise results. Results: Fifty-eight of the 125 surveys (46%) were not intended to be standard 30 × 30 cluster surveys. Of the remaining 67 surveys, 6 (9%) met predetermined criteria for validity and precision. All 67 used the anthropometric index of weight-for-height, with 58 (87%) reporting z scores. Fifty-four (81%) used nonrandom sampling without consideration of population size and 6 (9%) had sample sizes of fewer than 500 persons. Conclusions: Major methodological errors were identified among 30 × 30 cluster surveys designed to measure acute malnutrition prevalence in Ethiopia during the famine of 1999-2000. Donor agencies and NGOs should be educated about the need for improved quality of nutrition assessments and their essential role in directing allocation of scarce food resources.
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