Diarrhea remains the second leading cause of death in children under five years old -- approximately 760,000 deaths every year. It is also the leading cause of malnutrition in children under five. Each episode deprives a child of the necessary nutrition to live and thrive -- play, go to school and grow.
We have made great progress this year in expanding the use of zinc and ORS to treat diarrhea for children in Guatemala.
We have raised awareness among parents and health workers on why this affordable treatment is the best for a young child, not only because it quickly treats the diarrhea but it can reduce the number of episodes. A child can get better faster and stay healthier longer. This is critical for children who can have up to seven episodes every year.
We have also helped ensure that providers know how to explain the treatment to parents, and that moms and dads have the skills and information to use zinc at home.
Looking to the New Year, I have many wishes for moving forward with the Guatemala project -- reaching more people and saving more lives. What is happening in Guatemala can happen everywhere to tackle preventable diarrhea.
Political will is key to moving any global issue forward faster and more effectively, and with political will we can do so much more.
With that in mind, here is my modest wish list and I hope some of these items make it onto your list. Only through individual will and action can we make the world a healthier and happier place for all children. Here's to less diarrhea in 2014!
MY TOP FIVE WISHES TO END DIARRHEAL DISEASE FOR 2014
- Better access to safe drinking water: Worldwide, 780 million people lack access to improved drinking water. Diarrheal disease can be spread through contaminated food and drinking water, which is especially challenging for the youngest immune systems.
- Adequate sanitation and hygiene: Diarrheal disease can be spread from person-to-person as a result of poor hygiene. Poor hygiene isn't just from people not washing their hands, it is from not having a safe place for sewage or access to clean and safe water to wash up. It can also be related to the safety of the food system.
- Easy access to health facilities: For those who do get diarrhea, I wish their parents easy access to health facilities and an abundance of supply when they arrive, so that the walk and wait is worthwhile.
- Encouragement and clarity from health providers: I hope that caregivers receive encouragement from the health providers and clarity in how to use zinc and ORS at home.
- Consistent treatment for children: For those children who are given zinc & ORS, may they get the full dose and be protected from another episode of diarrhea for at least a few months.