Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Oral Rehydration Salts and Zinc: Simple but big solution to save children’s lives.

Veronica became very weak
as dehydration set in
©UNICEF Indonesia/2013/Rob Patmore
It was early morning in the town of Tambolaka on the Indonesian island of Sumba when Teresia and her husband rushed their daughter for treatment. Veronica was very weak and in need of lots of fluids. When she started vomiting and having loose stools, an Angkot (mini bus) driver immediately took them to sought help at the local hospital.

Veronica is a 1.5 year old girl, who became weak with every passing hour as the diarrhea continued and dehydration set in. Her mother Teresia watched, tenderly pressing Veronica close to her, hoping to somehow save her daughter’s life.

“We were very scared and worried,” says Teresia. “We have heard that children can die from just diarrhoea,” she adds while looking at her daughter. One of the health workers arrived with a small sachet of oral rehydration salts. She was also given Zinc tablet diluted in a teaspoon of water, which will help her fight a potentially deadly case of diarrhoea.

With each sip of the drink, life seemed to flow back into Veronica’s tiny body. Amazingly, in just a few hours, her condition improved so dramatically that she was able to smile again. You can just imagine the tears of relief and happiness that streamed down Teresia’s face as she realized her daughter was saved from suffering.

Teresia couldn't help but feeling scared and helpless seeing her daughter's condition
©UNICEF Indonesia / 2013 / Andrew Clark
Dr. Ayu Windi, one of the health workers at the hospital, says that diarrhea is very common among children, and the zinc-ORS program is “the best simple solution. We want all parents to know, that diarrhoea is a preventable disease.”

The simple treatment of ORS and Zinc spell the difference between life and death for a child suffering from diarrhoeal dehydration. It is a simple and inexpensive treatment that can be used by almost anyone, anywhere - but you cannot wait until it is too late.

If more parents can have this solution ready in their home and know how to give this to their children before the diarrhoea gets worse, many thousands of children like Veronica could be saved. The trouble is, the benefits of ORS therapy are not known to everyone. And too few mothers know how to administer ORS properly to their young ones.

In Indonesia, 150,000 children died annually due to preventable diseases - nearly 35,000 of them because of diarrhoea. Diarrhoea is a common condition, but it kills children because of the severe dehydration that it causes. Many deaths are also linked to malnutrition since repeat episodes of diarrhea cause the loss of essential nutrients, particularly zinc, from the body.

Dr. Ayu Windi took care of Veronica during her stay in the hospital
©UNICEF Indonesia / 2013 / Andrew Clark 
Children who are vulnerable are also those who live in remote and poor communities where there is usually low access to safe water and proper sanitation facilities. Many people still practice open defecation which is the main source of diarrheal diseases. This senseless tragedy could be avoided if we could increase awareness on good hygiene practices (such as washing hands with soap before meals and after using the toilet) and mobilise the community to have and use latrine.

UNICEF Indonesia and its partners have been working around the clock to train community health works in villages through local Government and NGO partners so they are able to treat diarrhea patients by providing ORS and Zinc. Support our work by visiting