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Rehydration salt makes list of essential drugs

Sunday July 14 2019

Oral Rehydration salt

A malnourished child receives Oral Rehydration salt. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has made a landmark decision of including a new co-packaged Oral Rehydration Salt (ORS) and zinc sulphate in its Model List of Essential Medicines for Children.

This will reinforce the lifesaving benefits of ORS and zinc together for paediatric diarrhoea management and achieving alignment with the long-standing recommendation for the use of both therapies as frontline practice. In most cases, the co-package has proven to be significantly less expensive than purchasing the two products separately.

The decision follows a global effort led by the Diarrhoea Innovations Group committed to reducing the global burden diarrheal diseases to make ORS and zinc more accessible in low-resource settings.

“Children in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities still die from diarrhoea every day. This ground-breaking decision from the WHO will save lives,” said Dr Andrew Murrison, the British International Development Minister.


Both ORS and zinc are already listed as medicines used in diarrhoea management, but as separate items with no formal guidance related to the use of co-packaged ORS and zinc existed.


As a result, the two products are treated differently in national essential drug lists, creating barriers to access to a proven, highly effective treatment.

“Co-packaged ORS and zinc can be delivered by community health workers everywhere and, therefore, reach the children most in need. It can and will save lives that are unnecessarily still lost to diarrhoea,” said Stefan Peterson, chief of health at Unicef.

Administration of ORS and zinc sulphate tablets for 10 to 14 days as an adjunct therapy has demonstrated to significantly reduce the duration and severity of diarrheal episodes while preventing future episodes.

However, the percentage of children with diarrhoea receiving the optimal co-administration of ORS and zinc remains unacceptably low, at less than seven percent.

It is estimated that more than 60 per cent of childhood diarrheal deaths could be prevented with full coverage of ORS and zinc alongside other community interventions.


Children get diarrhoea from time to time, with almost every child having at least one episode of diarrhoea in their childhood. Diarrhoea is described as the passage of loose or watery stool, which may occur at least three times in 24 hours. It often occurs alongside nausea, vomiting, cramps and fever.

Diarrhoea can cause a lot of discomfort in children and can lead to complications like dehydration, which can be serious if not managed promptly. The most common cause of diarrhoea is a viral infection such as rotavirus.