New rehydration formula can help save hundreds of thousands of children – UN

Children struggle to find clean water

23 March 2006 – The United Nations today announced a new formula for manufacturing a medicine to combat acute diarrhoeal disease that could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children each year.

Diarrhoea is currently the second leading cause of child deaths and kills 1.9 million young children annually, mostly from dehydration, and the new formula for Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) will advance the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of slashing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a joint statement.

The improved formula contains less glucose and sodium (245 mOsm/l compared with the previous 311 mOsm/l), affording quicker absorption of fluids, reducing the need for intravenous fluids and making it easier to treat children with acute non-cholera diarrhoea without hospitalization.

ORS is the simplest, most effective and cheapest way to keep children alive during severe episodes of diarrhoea. The solution is absorbed in the small intestine, thus replacing the water and electrolytes lost. WHO provides the only updated international quality specifications for this formula and UNICEF is a leading supplier of ORS to poor countries. The two agencies have jointly issued guidance for production of the new ORS.

Establishing local production of ORS will be a key step to ensure countries can meet their own needs in controlling diarrhoeal disease.

According to UNICEF and WHO, oral rehydration therapy should be combined with guidance on appropriate feeding practices. Provision of zinc supplements (20 mg of zinc per day for 10 to 14 days) and continued breastfeeding during acute episodes of diarrhoea protect against dehydration and reduce protein and calorie consumption, greatly reducing diarrhoea and malnutrition in children.

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