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Debilitating and Deadly Diarrhoea

No life-threatening childhood illness affects more children than diarrhoeal disease.

Nearly one in five children under the age of five dies as a result of dehydration, weakened immunity or malnutrition associated with diarrhoea. Every day, diarrhoeal disease kills some 2,700 children in this age group, close to one million lives every year.

Where it doesn't kill, it wreaks havoc on young bodies and lives - leading to millions of hospitalizations, weakening immune systems, holding children back from school and play, and contributing to long-term nutritional consequences.

With the expansion of oral rehydration therapy over the past two decades, there has been important progress in reducing childhood deaths from diarrhoea, but there has been little success in reducing overall incidence of diarrhoea among children.

Diarrhoeal incidence has remained steady at a whopping 2.5 billion cases per year.

A Bright New Beacon for Child Health and Survival

Zinc - one of the more abundant elements on earth - has quickly emerged as an exciting new opportunity in the urgent quest to drastically reduce the number of global child deaths by the 2015 target for the Millennium Development Goals.

When administered in conjunction with oral rehydration therapy (ORT), zinc has proven itself to be the most powerful tool to help children combat and recover from diarrhoeal disease.

More than that, it has demonstrated important preventive power, helping children resist subsequent episodes of diarrhoea for up to three months, thereby reducing the number of episodes a child suffers each year and giving children more time to recuperate.

In scientific terms, zinc supplementation in combination with ORT has been shown to reduce diarrhoeal incidence in children by an impressive 27%.

MI Helping to Save More Lives with Zinc

MI is calling for increased investment in all efforts to reduce diarrhoeal disease. Action must include the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, access to clean water and proper sanitation, measles vaccinations and vitamin A supplementation.   But at a mere cost of less than 50 cents to treat an episode of diarrhoea with a 10 to 14-day strip of zinc and packets of ORS, and with such impressive results in terms of health and survival, it is particularly critical that investments in zinc supplementation increase now.

To date, some 60 developing countries have added zinc supplementation to their national policy on diarrhoea treatment. But even for those who have worked their way through the often entailed process of changing national policy, many do not yet have sufficient programs at the scale required to bring this life-saving intervention to most of the children who need it.

Recognized as one of the world's leaders in micronutrient supplementation, the Micronutrient Initiative is applying its influence and expertise to encourage and support more governments in adopting zinc supplementation policy and to help those who have done so to turn policy into effective, sustainable programs.

Here are some of the ways we are hard at work:
  • providing technical expertise to governments to help them procure zinc and manage the supply chain;
  • partnering with governments to train health personnel and create recording and monitoring tools for use in health centers;
  • helping develop public communications to create demand for zinc supplements and encourage their use by families;
  • helping pilot the distribution of zinc and ORS during child health weeks;
  • developing and distributing special Diarrhoea Treatment Kits in emergency settings;
  • providing additional capacity to supervise programs in whatever form they take.

Mobilizing Partners

The Micronutrient Initiative chairs the Zinc Task Force - an impressive alliance of international agencies and academic institutions that pools expertise to set direction and address challenges in zinc scale-up.

Zinc Alliance for Child Health

The Zinc Alliance for Child Health (ZACH) is a unique partnership created to develop and sustain zinc treatment programs that will help save children´s lives.

This public-private-civil society alliance is committed to reducing child mortality by accelerating the use of zinc supplements and oral rehydration salts to treat diarrhoea, one of the most common killers of children in developing countries. ZACH will work to establish a model for specific projects that will involve zinc supplementation, combined with oral rehydration therapy.

In Canada, where ZACH originated, current partners are Teck, the Micronutrient Initiative (MI) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Senegal is the initial ZACH project location for this partnership. The Senegal ZACH project is being led by the Senegal Ministry of Health, with support from the Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, MI, Teck and CIDA.

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