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A new United Nations report
says diarrhea kills an estimated one fifth of the 8.8 million children under
the age of five who die worldwide each year. The report from UNICEF and the
World Health Organization lays out a multi-pronged strategy aimed at
significantly reducing this death toll. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.
According to the report, diarrhea is responsible for the death of 1.5 million
children under the age of five each year, more than AIDS, malaria and measles
combined. The condition causes death through massive fluid loss, and it often
accompanies diseases such as measles and rotavirus infections.
The report says only 39 percent of sick children in developing countries are
receiving the recommended treatment with oral fluid replacement therapy,
considered the cornerstone of treatment for diarrhea.
More children are not receiving oral rehydration, according to Elizabeth Mason
of the World Health Organization, in part because the global push promoting the
highly-effective therapy dwindled as other health priorities took their place.
As a result, Mason says roll-out of a new and improved rehydration therapy
called low-osmolarity oral rehydration salts, or O-R-S, has also been slow in
many countries where diarrheal diseases are prevalent. She said
" This oral rehydration solution has slightly less sugar and a little
less salt than in the original version. This small change makes the new ORS
formulation more effective at replacing the fluids lost by the child during
The report recommends five measures for preventing diarrheal illnesses. These
include breastfeeding for infants at least until the age of six months, vitamin
A supplements, better water quality, and the promotion of hand-washing.
"Hand washing with soap is one of the easiest ways of preventing the spread of
diarrheal diseases, and is one of the most cost-effective public health
interventions," says UNICEF executive director Ann Veneman.