Simple solutions for diarrheal diseases


A mother in Western Kenya gives oral rehydration solution to her infant.



The following is a guest post by Janie Hayes, a communications officer for PATH's defeatDD initiative.  

Next week, the UN General Assembly will gather for a two-day meeting in New York City. While the dialogue will be dominated by pressing issues of non-communicable diseases, the occasion also offers an important opportunity to review progress made in the past year towards achieving goals set by the UN Secretary General’s Global Strategy on Women and Children’s Health, released a year ago.

Today, a new report on integrated programming, released by six international NGOs, showcases one of the important principles behind the UN strategy – and a key theme in other global development efforts, including the US’ Global Health Initiative. The report, Join Up, Scale Up: How integration can defeat disease and poverty, presents success stories and calls for donors and policymakers to prioritize and invest in integrated programs.

One of the report’s case studies features a diarrheal disease program in Western Province, Kenya. The small dusty market town of Bungoma in Western Province may seem an unlikely incubator for global health integration. But there in the Webuye District clinic, community workers and the handful of overstretched staff that run the clinic are forced to think creatively about how to help the lines of mothers who appear each morning with their children, filling the yards and forming a snaking line beyond the front gate. 

Many of the children who come to Webuye have common ailments, like diarrhea – which can be treated simply if caught in time but can turn deadly if left untreated. Since 2010, with support from the US-based NGO PATH, the Webuye clinic has had a dedicated ORT corner – a small space with table and chairs where mothers triage from the line to feed their children a simple sugar-and-salt-and-water mixture until they are well enough to return home. The ORT corner is one of dozens springing up in health clinics around the country. 

The ORT corners provide more than a cure – they also provide an opportunity for integrated education for mothers. There, the mothers learn not only about ORT, but about other treatment and prevention methods for diarrhea. Health workers are able to provide information on water purification and sanitation, hygiene, nutrition, zinc, and vaccines. It’s a simple approach; yet this “full-package” prevention and treatment education on the most common child ailments is rare, and perhaps one reason why diarrhea remains one of the top killers of children in the world. Comprehensive education, along with integrated delivery of services, may be one solution for saving more lives by doing things just a little bit differently. 

Like the ORT corner approach, the other stories in Join Up, Scale Up also represent simple, if often overlooked, approaches to problems of poverty and ill health. Next week, as decision makers and funders meet to deliberate over the future of the Global Strategy on Women and Children’s Health, they will be well served by considering how they can achieve efficiencies, cost-effectiveness and greater results by prioritizing the critical principle of integration.