Sunday, October 29, 2006

A simple solution

I was puzzled when I read this article in TIME a few weeks ago. It basically says that diarrhea kills more children in the world than malaria, aids and tuberculosis combined. For children under 5 (excluding neonatal causes), the numbers per year are:
  1. Pneumonia: 2.000.000 deaths
  2. Diarrheal diseases: 1.900.000 deaths
  3. Malaria: 853.000 deaths
  4. Measles: 395.000 deaths
  5. HIV / AIDS: 321.000 deaths
What is so particular about diarrhea is that 90% of the deaths could be avoided if treated with oral rehydratation solutions, the simplest recipe being 1 teaspoon of salt and 8 teaspoons of sugar dissolved in a liter of water.

But people still die from diahrrea each day; the causes explained in the article are:
  • crowded cities and remote areas of poor countries often don't have adequate health facilities nearby;
  • many parents of young children never learn how to make oral rehydration solution at home;
  • sachets of the powdered mix require packaging, storage and distribution to those who need them;
  • oral rehydration does not initially reduce a child's stool output, leading some parents to conclude that it doesn't work, and give up.
  • developed nations channel health-care funds into areas perceived as presenting greater risks, such as aids - but far more children die from diarrhea than those who die from aids, as shown before.
  • diseases that have high profiles and vocal activists attract more interest and money from big donors and governments.
Celebrities don't pose for a picture besides a child diying of diarrhea, and yet it is clear that very little money will go a long way and that the main cause for those deaths is misinformation. And that's why I wrote this post, hoping some information will get to the people needing it. According to the hypothesis of the six degrees of separation there are at most 5 persons between you and the children dying, so spread the word.

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