Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old. It is both preventable and treatable. Each year diarrhoea kills around 525,000 children under five.
A significant proportion of can be prevented through safe drinking-water and adequate sanitation and hygiene. Globally, there are nearly 1.7 billion cases of childhood diarrhoeal disease every year.
Diarrhoea is usually a symptom of an infection in the intestinal tract, which can be caused by a variety of bacterial, viral and parasitic organisms. Infection is spread through contaminated food or drinking-water, or from person-to-person as a result of poor hygiene.
Dr Amit Dhakane, physician from Pune, said, “Interventions to prevent diarrhoea, including safe drinking-water, use of improved sanitation and hand washing with soap can reduce disease risk.”
Dr Dhakane added, “Diarrhoea should be treated with oral rehydration solution (ORS), a solution of clean water, sugar and salt. In addition, a 10-14 day supplemental treatment course of dispersible 20 milligrams zinc tablets shortens diarrhoea duration and improves outcomes.”
Key measures to prevent diarrhoea include:
- Access to safe drinking-water.
- Use of improved sanitation.
- Handwashing with soap.
- Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
- Good personal and food hygiene.
- Health education about how infections spread.
- Rotavirus vaccination.
Key measures to treat diarrhoea include the following:
Rehydration: With oral rehydration salts (ORS) solution. ORS is a mixture of clean water, salt and sugar. It costs a few cents per treatment. ORS is absorbed in the small intestine and replaces the water and electrolytes lost in the faeces. Rehydration with intravenous fluids in case of severe dehydration or shock.
Zinc supplements: Zinc supplements reduce the duration of a diarrhoea episode by 25% and are associated with a 30% reduction in stool volume.
Nutrient-rich foods: The vicious circle of malnutrition and diarrhoea can be broken by continuing to give nutrient-rich foods – including breast milk – during an episode, and by giving a nutritious diet – including exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life – to children when they are well.
Consulting a health professional, in particular for management of persistent diarrhoea or when there is blood in stool or if there are signs of dehydration.