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Speaking Of: : Crippling a Child Killer

June 27, 1995

Open sewers in dusty streets. Lack of clean drinking water. No medical care for miles.

For millions of the world's children, these are daily realities. As a result, diarrheal diseases claim about 3 million young lives each year, according to UNICEF. Together with pneumonia, they account for nearly half of all deaths under age 5.

But progress is being made against this killer. Twenty-five years ago, diarrhea victims could be treated only in hospitals, with intraveneous rehydration. Now thousands are treated at home with oral rehydration therapy (ORT), drinking a special salt-glucose solution. Mexico is a model. In just three years, more than 5 million mothers learned the technique, and deaths from diarrheal diseases were halved.

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Oral Rehydration Therapy

1. Drink plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration.

2. Mix one packet of the salt-glucouse solution into a liter of water and drink. After 24 hours, pour out any remaining solution and make new batch.

3. Maintain strength by continuing to eat regularly.

4. Consult a doctor if symptoms persist. (BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Mexican Model

Mexico's campaigns to educate its people about oral rehydration therapy and to improve sanitation have paid off dramatically.

Annual death rates from diarrheal diseases:

1990: 14,001

1993: 6,463

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Region by Region

Rates vary widely, but all developing regions are using oral rehydration therapy more frequently.

Percentage of children under 5 treated with ORT in the developing world:

E. Asia and Pacific

1988: 32%

1993: 36%

South Asia

1988: 27%

1993: 39%

Sub-Saharan Africa

1988: 28%

1993: 49%

Middle East and N. Africa

1988: 43 %

1993: 55%

Latin America and Caribbean

1988: 23%

1993: 64%

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Country Count

At least 80% of families should be instructed on the use of ORT by the end of this year, leaders vowed at the 1990 World Summit for Children. A progress report, as of September, 1994:

Developing countries on track to reach 80% ORT use

Achieved or on track: 44

Achievable with extra effort: 46

Unlikely at present rates of progress: 12

SOURCE: United Nations Children's Fund: The State of the World's Children 1995

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