Digestive Health

Updated 02 May 2017

1.5 million kids die from diarrhoea

Diarrhoea still claims the lives of 1.5 million children under the age of five a year, UN agencies warned recently, as they launched a new campaign against the ailment.

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"It is a tragedy that diarrhoea, which is little more than an inconvenience in the developed world, kills an estimated 1.5 million children each year," said Ann Veneman, executive director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"Inexpensive and effective treatments for diarrhoea exist, but in developing countries only 39% of children with diarrhoea receive the recommended treatment," she added. Close to 18% of all deaths among children under five are due to diarrhoea, largely caused by contaminated water and infections, said Olivier Fontaine, the World Health Organisation's expert on children's health.

Seven-point plan
UNICEF and the World Health Organisation launched a seven-point plan to prevent and treat diarrhoea, including replacing body fluids to prevent dehydration, zinc treatment, promotion of early breastfeeding, and promotion of hand washing with soap.

According to the WHO, 50 million children have been saved thanks to the low cost treatment of oral rehydration salts, a treatment that has been available for the past 25 years.

The simple act of hand washing with soap can reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal diseases by over 40%, added UNICEF.

"The problem of access has not improved because diarrhoea has become a disease neglected by donor countries," said Fontaine. Meanwhile, poor countries acknowledge that it is a key problem but "prefer to allocate funds they receive to other diseases," she added. - (Sapa, October 2009)

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Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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