Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Random demographic household surveys in highly mobile pastoral communities in Chad

Daniel Weibel, Mahamat Béchir, Jan Hattendorf, Bassirou Bonfoh, Jakob Zinsstag & Esther Schelling


Reliable demographic data is a central requirement for health planning and management, and for the implementation of adequate interventions. This study addresses the lack of demographic data on mobile pastoral communities in the Sahel.


A total of 1081 Arab, Fulani and Gorane women and 2541 children (1336 boys and 1205 girls) were interviewed and registered by a biometric fingerprint scanner in five repeated random transect demographic and health surveys conducted from March 2007 to January 2008 in the Lake Chad region in Chad.

Local setting

Important determinants for the planning and implementation of household surveys among mobile pastoral communities include: environmental factors; availability of women for interviews; difficulties in defining “own” children; the need for information-education-communication campaigns; and informed consent of husbands in typically patriarchal societies.

Relevant changes

Due to their high mobility, only 5% (56/1081) of registered women were encountered twice. Therefore, it was not possible to establish a demographic and health cohort.

Lessons learnt

Prospective demographic and health cohorts are the most accurate method to assess child mortality and other demographic indices. However, their feasibility in a highly mobile pastoral setting remains to be shown. Future interdisciplinary scientific efforts need to target innovative methods, tools and approaches to include marginalized communities in operational health and demographic surveillance systems.