click to enlarge photo UNICEF, India
Diarrhoeal disease is one of the greatest killers of children in the developing world and often the chief cause of child malnutrition.
Each year, in the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, approximately 1.2 million children under five years of age die from acute diarrhoea. About 80 percent of these deaths are in the first two years of life. In the developing world as a whole, about one-third of infant and child deaths are due to diarrhoea.
Approximately 70 percent of diarrhoeal deaths are caused by dehydration - the loss of large quantities of water and salts from the body. The human body needs water to maintain enough blood and other fluids to function properly. If your body loses substantially more fluids than you are taking in, you become dehydrated.
A 'cure' for diarrhoea - a drug that would stop the disease, safely and effectively, within a few hours - does not exist. Yet the deaths of over two million children a year could be prevented by a method that is cheap, safe and so simple it can be learned and used by any parent. This treatment, which perhaps sounds too good to be true, is Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT). It consists in drinking a simple solution to replace the water and salts lost from the body during diarrhoea. This solution could be continuation of breastfeeding, home fluids made from commonly available household ingredients, home made Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS), using sugar and salt solutions (or a cereal such as rice) mixed with water, or using packaged ORS which can be prepared by adding water to a packet of glucose and salts costing about 10 cents.
Oral rehydration is one of the most cost-effective of all medical technologies. The total cost (including staff salaries and other overhead) for treating a child with ORT at a health facility is about US$1. If mothers themselves prepare a solution from ingredients normally available in the home, the cost is only a few cents. Drugs are usually required for no more than 10 percent of children treated at health facilities for diarrhoea.
Within the next decade the deaths of 20 million children could be prevented by the use of oral rehydration. The British medical journal, the Lancet, called it " ... possibly the greatest medical discovery of this century." No other single medical breakthrough of the 20th century has the potential to prevent so many deaths, over such a short period of time and at so little cost.
Rehydration Project is a private, non-profit, non-sectarian, international development group. We aim to work within the health framework of developing countries to help them achieve and maintain high levels of immunization, improve access to clean water and safe sanitation, support breastfeeding and promote hygiene education. We also show these countries how to promote ORT and its effectiveness and how to develop educational programs to encourage widespread usage. In short, new ways to promote, produce and provide ORT.
Because diarrhoea is so common and can be severe, Rehydration Project's focus is to help educate all health practitioners and parents of small children on the proper management of acute diarrhoea. To teach them that diarrhoea can be prevented by breastfeeding, by immunizing all children against measles, by using latrines, by keeping food and water clean, by washing hands (the child's as well) before touching food and by making ORT known and available and putting that knowledge directly into the hands of parents who need it.
Educating individual mothers and food handlers is important, but wider issues such as environmental, social and economic factors also need to be addressed. Communities' access to fuel, water, sanitation facilities and other resources must be improved. Increasing family incomes can ensure that households have greater choice about the food they buy and the preparation methods they use. The main causes of diarrhoea are poor hygiene and lack of clean drinking water. The improved care of children with diarrhoea could lead to a noticeable decrease in the number of children who are hospitalized or die as a result of diarrhoeal illness. It is the responsibility of government to support the community in tackling these basic problems.
Please learn how you can help prevent children dying from dehydration and end this silent plague.
No advertising on this site.
Any part of this site may be freely reproduced, with appropriate acknowledgment. Rehydration Project encourages the reproduction of articles on this site for non-profit making and educational uses. Please clearly credit Rehydration Project as the source and, if possible, send us a copy of any uses made of the material. All works published are open access. Everything is immediately available without cost to anyone, anywhere -- to read, download, redistribute, include in databases, and otherwise use -- subject only to the condition that the original authorship is properly attributed. Copyright is retained by the authors. Rehydration Project uses the Creative Commons Attribution License.
Note: The Rehydration Project web site is funded by The Mother and Child Health and Education Trust. The Trust is funded by our Trustees and private donations. These sources of funding have no influence on the editorial content of the website and there is no conflict of interest.
The information on our web site is for general purposes and knowledge only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or treatment and should not be construed as definitive or binding. Rehydration Project cannot answer questions about specific medical conditions. The information provider is an Internet professional and not a medical professional. Because each person is medically different, we strongly recommend that you contact your personal physician for these specific medical questions and/or treatment.
Patients and laypersons looking for guidance are strongly advised to review the information retrieved with their professional health care provider. However, we do review questions to help guide our priorities for ongoing content development. Selected information is peer-reviewed for it's health/medical accuracy by subject experts and our Trustees and then published. Content is regularly revisited and new information is added as required.
Privacy, Confidentiality and Security Policy