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Sparking the Next Revolution in Child Survival: Uniting to End Child Deaths from Diarrhea

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A few weeks ago we travelled together to Senegal in West Africa -- the senior vice president of a Canadian resource company and the president of an international development organization -- to visit rural health posts and to meet with community leaders, health workers and mothers who will be on the front lines of what many are calling the next revolution in child survival.

Every year the equivalent of 25,000 classrooms full of kids under the age of five are killed by an illness that we rarely discuss in the West -- diarrhea. Diarrhea kills up to one million children every year. It is a terrible waste of life and untapped potential, made even more terrible by the fact that it costs less than a dollar to treat.

Children dehydrated and depleted by diarrhea can become seriously ill very quickly. However, two packets of oral rehydration salts (ORS) and 10 to 14 zinc supplements provide a full-course treatment that reduces the severity of the diarrhea episode and help build up resistance to guard against future episodes. Together, this treatment combining ORS and zinc costs as little as 50 cents. Yet today, only one-third of children who have diarrhea receives ORS, and in most countries only about 1 percent receives zinc.

To help turn these statistics around, Teck and the Micronutrient Initiative have joined forces with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in a $20-million public-private sector partnership called the Zinc Alliance for Child Health (ZACH). The Micronutrient Initiative provides the know-how to roll out and scale up programs and Teck and CIDA provide financial support.

ZACH is what brought us to Senegal. In this West African country, one-quarter of children under the age of five are affected by diarrhea, and this contributes to the fact that one in ten children do not reach their fifth birthday. The ZACH project, integrated in the Senegalese Ministry of Health's larger diarrhea program, will support health workers at 4,000 health posts across the country and treat more than two million cases of diarrhea. Over the coming year, we plan to launch ZACH in at least four other countries in Africa and Asia where child deaths from diarrhea are among the highest.

In Senegal we were moved by the hope and impact that this project represents. You could see it in the faces of the mothers we met -- and in the community leaders and other Senegalese partners whose 'ownership' of this program will contribute to its sustainability.

We are not alone in seeing the promise that scaling up ORS and zinc represents in the global effort to curb child deaths. On June 14 and 15, more than 700 leaders from around the world gathered in Washington, DC for an event, the Child Survival Call to Action, intended to mobilize political will around scalable solutions to curb child deaths. ZACH was spotlighted as a premier example of an approach with promise.

In Washington, we delivered the message that we learned in Senegal during our visit to the front lines, where the real work and campaigning to save lives will be waged. It is a message of hope, opportunity and impact -- that a treatment that costs as little as 50 cents can be the spark that ignites the next revolution in child survival.

Doug Horswill is the Senior Vice President of Teck, one of Canada's largest diversified resource companies and Venkatesh Mannar is President of the Micronutrient Initiative, a leading organization working to eliminate vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the world's most vulnerable populations. Mr. Horswill presented ZACH to leaders at a global Call to Action on Child Survival in Washington, DC. For more information on the Child Survival Call to Action visit APromiseRenewed.org.