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Infants in poorer regions lack access to diarrhoea therapy

Poor availability of rehydration remedies for under-fives is leaving many without treatment.

Thousands of infants in poor countries are dying without access to low-cost, useful treatment for diarrhoea, a global study has shown.

Availability of oral rehydration solution (ORS), which aids recovery from the common condition, remains below 50 per cent in many regions of low and middle-income countries, despite efforts to improve access to it, researchers found.

Use of the therapy has increased overall in the past two decades, but progress has been slow and efforts to improve availability are needed urgently to target diarrhoea as a leading cause of child mortality, researchers found.

Outcomes from the study, involving the Global Academy for Agriculture and Food Security, could shed light on where the therapy is unavailable, and inform policymaking to address inequalities in therapy use and potentially save lives.

Comparisons of mortality and availability of therapies can be used to identify children most in need.

Household surveys

In the first study of its kind, scientists examined access to oral rehydration therapy for diarrhoea in under-fives across 94 countries over the period 2000 to 2017.

They tracked coverage of oral rehydration solution – a pre-packed mix of salts and sugars – and other hydration therapies including home-made treatments known as Recommended Home Fluids (RHF) in almost 400 households across low- and middle-income countries.

Researchers conducted a statistical analysis to generate valuable data on where therapies are taken up, and the factors influencing their use.

Untreated illness

Children by Isaac del Toro on Unsplash
Many children lack access to low-cost treatment for diarrhoea.

Availability of oral rehydration solution is slowly increasing, and researchers estimate some 52,000 deaths were avoided by its increased use between 2000 and 2017.

However, of the 500,000 infant deaths in 2017 relating to diarrhoea, some 300,000 were attributable to lack of ORS, their analysis indicated.

Availability of ehydrating treatment remained below 50 per cent in most places and more than 6.5 million children affected by diarrhoea in 2017 were not given any form of hydration therapy.

Mortality was higher than average in parts of Colombia, Nigeria, Sudan and Peru.

The research, carried out by the Local Burden of Disease Collaboration, was funded by Bill & Melinda Gates and published in Lancet Global Health.

Oral rehydration solution has been hailed as a significant medical advance and yet its accessibility remains below 50 percent in most low- and middle-income countries. It is imperative that steps are taken to improve coverage of this affordable treatment to help alleviate infant deaths.

Dr Taddese ZerfuResearch Fellow, Global Academy for Agriculture and Food Security

Image credit: Isaac del Toro on Unsplash