Sam Heft-Neal is a Research Scholar at the Center on Food Security and the Environment. Sam is working to identify the impacts of environmental changes on health, agriculture, and food availability around the world. His recent work combines household surveys with remote sensing data to examine environmental drivers of child health. Sam holds a Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of California, Berkeley and a B.A. in Statistics and Economics from the same institution.

Academic Appointments

  • Social Science Research Scholar, Center on Food Security and Environment at FSI

Honors & Awards

  • Top 10 Clinical Research Achievement Award, Clinical Research Forum (03/03/2019)

All Publications

  • Comparison of World Health Organization and Demographic and Health Surveys data to estimate sub-national deworming coverage in pre-school aged children. PLoS neglected tropical diseases Lo, N. C., Gupta, R., Addiss, D. G., Bendavid, E., Heft-Neal, S., Mikhailov, A., Montresor, A., Mbabazi, P. S. 2020; 14 (8): e0008551


    BACKGROUND: The key metric for monitoring the progress of deworming programs in controlling soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) is national drug coverage reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). There is increased interest in utilizing geographically-disaggregated data to estimate sub-national deworming coverage and equity, as well as gender parity. The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) offer a potential source of sub-national data. This study aimed to compare deworming coverage routinely reported to WHO and estimated by DHS in pre-school aged children to inform global STH measurement and evaluation.METHODOLOGY: We compared sub-national deworming coverage in pre-school aged children reported to WHO and estimated by DHS aligned geospatially and temporally. We included data from Burundi (2016-2017), Myanmar (2015-2016), and the Philippines (2017) based on data availability. WHO provided data on the date and sub-national coverage per mass drug administration reported by Ministries of Health. DHS included maternally-reported deworming status within the past 6 months for each child surveyed. We estimated differences in sub-national deworming coverage using WHO and DHS data, and performed sensitivity analyses.PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We compared data on pre-school aged children from 13 of 18 districts in Burundi (N = 6,835 in DHS), 11 of 15 districts in Myanmar (N = 1,462 in DHS) and 16 of 17 districts in the Philippines (N = 7,594 in DHS) following data exclusion. The national deworming coverages estimated by DHS in Burundi, Myanmar, and the Philippines were 75.5% (95% CI: 73.7%-77.7%), 47.0% (95% CI: 42.7%-51.3%), and 48.0% (95% CI: 46.0%-50.0%), respectively. The national deworming coverages reported by WHO in Burundi, Myanmar, and the Philippines were 80.1%, 93.6% and 75.7%, respectively. The mean absolute differences in district-level coverage reported to WHO and estimated by DHS in Burundi, Myanmar, and the Philippines were 9.5%, 41.5%, and 24.6%, respectively. Across countries, coverage reported to WHO was frequently higher than DHS estimates (32 of 40 districts). National deworming coverage from DHS estimates were similar by gender within countries.CONCLUSIONS AND SIGNIFICANCE: Agreement of deworming coverage reported to WHO and estimated by DHS data was heterogeneous across countries, varying from broadly compatible in Burundi to largely discrepant in Myanmar. DHS data could complement deworming data reported to WHO to improve data monitoring practices and serve as an independent sub-national source of coverage data.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pntd.0008551

    View details for PubMedID 32804925

  • Dust pollution from the Sahara and African infant mortality NATURE SUSTAINABILITY Heft-Neal, S., Burney, J., Bendavid, E., Voss, K. K., Burke, M. 2020
  • State of deworming coverage and equity in low-income and middle-income countries using household health surveys: a spatiotemporal cross-sectional study. The Lancet. Global health Lo, N. C., Heft-Neal, S., Coulibaly, J. T., Leonard, L., Bendavid, E., Addiss, D. G. 2019


    Mass deworming against soil-transmitted helminthiasis, which affects 1 billion of the poorest people globally, is one of the largest public health programmes for neglected tropical diseases, and is intended to be equitable. However, the extent to which treatment programmes for deworming achieve equitable coverage across wealth class and sex is unclear and the public health metric of national deworming coverage does not include representation of equity. This study aims to measure both coverage and equity in global, national, and subnational deworming to guide future programmatic evaluation, investment, and metric design.We used nationally representative, geospatial, household data from Demographic and Health Surveys that measured mother-reported deworming in children of preschool age (12-59 months). Deworming was defined as children having received drugs for intestinal parasites in the previous 6 months before the survey. We estimated deworming coverage disaggregated by geography, wealth quintile, and sex, and computed an equity index. We examined trends in coverage and equity index across countries, within countries, and over time. We used a regression model to compute the household correlates of deworming and ecological correlates of equitable deworming.Our study included 820 883 children living in 50 countries from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe that are endemic for soil-transmitted helminthiasis using 77 Demographic and Health Surveys from December, 2003, to October, 2017. In these countries, the mean deworming coverage in preschool children was estimated at 33·0% (95% CI 32·9-33·1). The subnational coverage ranged from 0·5% to 87·5%, and within-country variation was greater than between-country variation. Of the 31 countries reporting that they reached the WHO goal of more than 75% national coverage, 30 had inequity in deworming, with treatment concentrated in wealthier populations. We did not detect systematic differences in deworming equity by sex.Substantial inequities in mass deworming programmes are common as wealthier populations have consistently higher coverage than that of the poor, including in countries reporting to have reached the WHO goal of more than 75% national coverage. These inequities seem to be geographically heterogeneous, modestly improving over time, with no evidence of sex differences in inequity. Future reporting of deworming coverage should consider disaggregation by geography, wealth, and sex with incorporation of an equity index to complement the conventional public health metric of national deworming coverage.Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Stanford University Medical Scientist Training Program.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/S2214-109X(19)30413-9

    View details for PubMedID 31558383

  • Women and children living in areas of armed conflict in Africa: a geospatial analysis of mortality and orphanhood. The Lancet. Global health Wagner, Z., Heft-Neal, S., Wise, P. H., Black, R. E., Burke, M., Boerma, T., Bhutta, Z. A., Bendavid, E. 2019


    The population effects of armed conflict on non-combatant vulnerable populations are incompletely understood. We aimed to study the effects of conflict on mortality among women of childbearing age (15-49 years) and on orphanhood among children younger than 15 years in Africa.We tested the extent to which mortality among women aged 15-49 years, and orphanhood among children younger than 15 years, increased in response to nearby armed conflict in Africa. Data on location, timing, and intensity of armed conflicts were obtained from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, and data on the location, timing, and outcomes of women and children from Demographic and Health Surveys done in 35 African countries from 1990 to 2016. Mortality among women was obtained from sibling survival data. We used cluster-area fixed-effects regression models to compare survival of women during periods of nearby conflict (within 50 km) to survival of women in the same area during times without conflict. We used similar methods to examine the extent to which children living near armed conflicts are at increased risk of becoming orphans. We examined the effects of varying conflict intensity using number of direct battle deaths and duration of consecutive conflict exposure.We analysed data on 1 629 352 women (19 286 387 person-years), of which 103 011 (6·3%) died (534·1 deaths per 100 000 women-years), and 2 354 041 children younger than 15 years, of which 204 276 (8·7%) had lost a parent. On average, conflict within 50 km increased women's mortality by 112 deaths per 100 000 person-years (95% CI 97-128; a 21% increase above baseline), and the probability that a child has lost at least one parent by 6·0% (95% CI 3-8). This effect was driven by high-intensity conflicts: exposure to the highest (tenth) decile conflict in terms of conflict-related deaths increased the probability of female mortality by 202% (187-218) and increased the likelihood of orphanhood by 42% compared with a conflict-free period. Among the conflict-attributed deaths, 10% were due to maternal mortality.African women of childbearing age are at a substantially increased risk of death from nearby high-intensity armed conflicts. Children exposed to conflict are analogously at increased risk of becoming orphans. This work fills gaps in literature on the harmful effects of armed conflict on non-combatants and highlights the need for humanitarian interventions to protect vulnerable populations.Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the BRANCH Consortium.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/S2214-109X(19)30407-3

    View details for PubMedID 31669039

  • Armed conflict and child mortality in Africa: a geospatial analysis. Lancet (London, England) Wagner, Z., Heft-Neal, S., Bhutta, Z. A., Black, R. E., Burke, M., Bendavid, E. 2018


    BACKGROUND: A substantial portion of child deaths in Africa take place in countries with recent history of armed conflict and political instability. However, the extent to which armed conflict is an important cause of child mortality, especially in Africa, remains unknown.METHODS: We matched child survival with proximity to armed conflict using information in the Uppsala Conflict Data Program Georeferenced Events Dataset on the location and intensity of armed conflict from 1995 to 2015 together with the location, timing, and survival of infants younger than 1 year (primary outcome) in 35 African countries. We measured the increase in mortality risk for infants exposed to armed conflicts within 50 km in the year of birth and, to study conflicts' extended health risks, up to 250 km away and 10 years before birth. We also examined the effects of conflicts of varying intensity and chronicity (conflicts lasting several years), and effect heterogeneity by residence and sex of the child. We then estimated the number and portion of deaths of infants younger than 1 year related to conflict.FINDINGS: We identified 15 441 armed conflict events that led to 968 444 combat-related deaths and matched these data with 1·99 million births and 133 361 infant deaths (infant mortality of 67 deaths per 1000 births) between 1995 and 2015. A child born within 50 km of an armed conflict had a risk of dying before reaching age 1 year of 5·2 per 1000 births higher than being born in the same region during periods without conflict (95% CI 3·7-6·7; a 7·7% increase above baseline). This increased risk of dying ranged from a 3·0% increase for armed conflicts with one to four deaths to a 26·7% increase for armed conflicts with more than 1000 deaths. We find evidence of increased mortality risk from an armed conflict up to 100 km away, and for 8 years after conflicts, with cumulative increase in infant mortality two to four times higher than the contemporaneous increase. In the entire continent, the number of infant deaths related to conflict from 1995 to 2015 was between 3·2 and 3·6 times the number of direct deaths from armed conflicts.INTERPRETATION: Armed conflict substantially and persistently increases infant mortality in Africa, with effect sizes on a scale with malnutrition and several times greater than existing estimates of the mortality burden of conflict. The toll of conflict on children, who are presumably not combatants, underscores the indirect toll of conflict on civilian populations, and the importance of developing interventions to address child health in areas of conflict.FUNDING: The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Centre for Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children.

    View details for PubMedID 30173907

  • Robust relationship between air quality and infant mortality in Africa NATURE Heft-Neal, S., Burney, J., Bendavid, E., Burke, M. 2018; 559 (7713): 254-+
  • Deworming in pre-school age children: A global empirical analysis of health outcomes. PLoS neglected tropical diseases Lo, N. C., Snyder, J., Addiss, D. G., Heft-Neal, S., Andrews, J. R., Bendavid, E. 2018; 12 (5): e0006500


    There is debate over the effectiveness of deworming children against soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) to improve health outcomes, and current evidence may be limited in study design and generalizability. However, programmatic deworming continues throughout low and middle-income countries.We performed an empirical evaluation of the relationship between deworming in pre-school age children (ages 1-4 years) within the previous 6 months, as proxy-reported by the mother, and health outcomes of weight, height, and hemoglobin. We used nationally representative cross-sectional data from 45 countries using the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) during the period 2005-2016. We used logistic regression with coarsened exact matching, fixed effects for survey and year, and person-level covariates. We included data on 325,115 children in 45 STH-endemic countries from 66 DHS surveys. Globally in STH-endemic countries, children who received deworming treatment were less likely to be stunted (1.2 percentage point decline from mean of 36%; 95% CI [-1.9, -0.5%]; p<0.001), but we did not detect consistent associations between deworming and anemia or weight. In sub-Saharan Africa, we found that children who received deworming treatment were less likely to be stunted (1.1 percentage point decline from mean of 36%; 95% CI [-2.1, -0.2%]; p = 0.01) and less likely to have anemia (1.8 percentage point decline from mean of 58%; 95% CI [-2.8, -0.7%]; p<0.001), but we did not detect consistent associations between deworming and weight. These findings were robust across multiple statistical models, and we did not find consistently measurable associations with data from non-endemic settings.Among pre-school age children, we detected a robust and consistent association between deworming and reduced stunting, with additional evidence for reduced anemia in sub-Saharan Africa. We did not find a consistent relationship between deworming and improved weight. This global empirical analysis provides evidence to support the deworming of pre-school age children.

    View details for PubMedID 29852012

  • Higher temperatures increase suicide rates in the United States and Mexico Nature Climate Change Burke, M., González, F., Baylis, P., Heft-Neal, S., Baysan, C., Basu, S., Hsiang, S. 2018; 8 (8): 723--729
  • Using remotely sensed temperature to estimate climate response functions Environmental Research Letters Heft-Neal, S., Lobell, D. B., Burke, M. 2017; 12 (1): 014013

    View details for DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/aa5463

  • Sources of variation in under-5 mortality across sub-Saharan Africa: a spatial analysis. The Lancet. Global health Burke, M., Heft-Neal, S., Bendavid, E. 2016


    Detailed spatial understanding of levels and trends in under-5 mortality is needed to improve the targeting of interventions to the areas of highest need, and to understand the sources of variation in mortality. To improve this understanding, we analysed local-level information on child mortality across sub-Saharan Africa between 1980-2010.We used data from 82 Demographic and Health Surveys in 28 sub-Saharan African countries, including the location and timing of 3·24 million childbirths and 393 685 deaths, to develop high-resolution spatial maps of under-5 mortality in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. These estimates were at a resolution of 0·1 degree latitude by 0·1 degree longitude (roughly 10 km × 10 km). We then analysed this spatial information to distinguish within-country versus between-country sources of variation in mortality, to examine the extent to which declines in mortality have been accompanied by convergence in the distribution of mortality, and to study localised drivers of mortality differences, including temperature, malaria burden, and conflict.In our sample of sub-Saharan African countries from the 1980s to the 2000s, within-country differences in under-5 mortality accounted for 74-78% of overall variation in under-5 mortality across space and over time. Mortality differed significantly across only 8-15% of country borders, supporting the role of local, rather than national, factors in driving mortality patterns. We found that by the end of the study period, 23% of the eligible children in the study countries continue to live in mortality hotspots-areas where, if current trends continue, the Sustainable Developent Goals mortality targets will not be met. In multivariate analysis, within-country mortality levels at each pixel were significantly related to local temperature, malaria burden, and recent history of conflict.Our findings suggest that sub-national determinants explain a greater portion of under-5 mortality than do country-level characteristics. Sub-national measures of child mortality could provide a more accurate, and potentially more actionable, portrayal of where and why children are still dying than can national statistics.The Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/S2214-109X(16)30212-1

    View details for PubMedID 27793587