International

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Karel Prinsloo/AP
A child suffering from severe diarrhea is treated at a clinic of the International Medical
Corps in eastern Congo.

WHO Announces Miracle Formula for Treating Diarrhea

March 13, 2009 11:15 AM
by Shannon Firth
Millions of children who die each year from diarrhea can be cured through a simple homemade remedy.

The Power of Three Simple Ingredients

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A little salt, sugar and clean water can save 2 million children around the world who die from diarrhea each year says the World Health Organization.

One-fifth of these children die from dehydration and other complications of untreated diarrhea, spread by bacteria, viruses and parasites. Traditionally, aid workers distribute oral rehydration tablets, but many do not have access to health care. In such cases the simple salt and sugar solution can be made at home, though not all caregivers know this.

According to Agence France-Presse, “Research into childhood diarrhoea has declined since the 1980s, keeping pace with dwindling funds.”  Diarrhea is overlooked because in Western culture diarrhea is considered an annoyance or an embarrassment, whereas in the developing world it can be a death sentence.

Time writer Andrea Gerlin states pointedly, “Celebrities don’t host concerts to fight diarrhea.”  When a person has diarrhea, Gerlin explains, the small intestine, which is our “pumping station,” detects a foreign presence such as a bacteria or virus and instead of absorbing fluid along with the nutrients it carries, the intestine “disgorges its contents in a watery rush of stools.” This results in dehydration.

Gerlin goes on to explain that with diseases like cholera, dehydration from diarrhea can kill its victims in as little as 4 hours. When oral rehydration therapy was used in Bangladesh’s Ganges River Basin in the 1960s, the mortality rate dropped from 50 percent to zero over a few years. Despite these results and similar success from a Johns Hopkins project in Calcutta, doctors were skeptical that something so basic could be a reliable cure, and continued to use intravenous methods.
According to Time magazine, in 1971, when Bangladesh fought Pakistan for its independence, 9 million refugees, many of whom were infected with cholera, fled to India. Dilip Mahalanabis, a doctor who had worked on the Johns Hopkins studies, initially used an IV saline treatment to treat his patients, but quickly ran out of saline. Mahalanabis and his team, like factory workers, began pouring and measuring the correct elements for oral rehydration fluid. They mixed it in water and gave it to caregivers to treat patients wherever they were.

Mahalanabis, now 79, told Time, “We brought in drums with side-taps, filled them up and sent them to the field. We were essentially using people to experiment on. But we were pushed to the wall.”
Despite having an effective cure, Dominique Praplan of the International Federation of the Red Cross told Reuters, “Ensuring that people have basic knowledge to avoid infection from water-borne diseases is fundamental if we are to reduce the number of deaths caused by consumption of infected water.”

Video: Oral rehydration therapy

Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC, formerly known as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, explained to PBS, “[In 1979] most people didn’t know how to prepare oral rehydration solution and how to administer it.”  Over a decade, BRAC workers went “house to house” teaching 13 million women about ORT, which reduced childhood mortality by half.

Reference: Making the oral rehydration solution at home

The Web site Rehydrate.org offers illustrated directions for preparing your own ORS. On the site’s FAQ page, Rehydrate.org explains that replacing lost fluid is of vital importance: “In situations where it is difficult to boil water, mothers are advised to use the cleanest water possible.”
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