Diarrhoea is still one of the leading causes of death, ill health and disability among children younger than five, accounting for 19% of deaths of under-fives in South Africa and for 46% on the African continent.1 Globally, diarrhoea is the second leading infectious cause of death, accounting for 9.2% of deaths in under-fives.1
According to Momeena Omarjee, Consumer Healthcare Country Head: Scientific Affairs, at Sanofi South Africa, diarrhoea and vomiting are more dangerous for infants and toddlers because they are at far greater risk of dehydration.2 “Babies younger than 6 months are most at risk of dehydration, because their bodies haven’t developed to the point where they can handle the significant loss of fluid caused by vomiting or a runny stomach,2” says Omarjee.
If your child has diarrhoea and is refusing to take medicine or vomits up anything you’ve tried to give them, this is a serious situation, because they may become dehydrated.2 Severe dehydration can lead to hospitalisation and possibly death.3
Danger Signs To Watch Out For
There are some signs and symptoms that dehydration might be developing, these include the following2:
- blood in the stool – especially with fever
- severe and worsening cramps
- dry mouth
- sunken fontanelle (soft spot on the top, back, and sides of your baby’s head)
- sunken eyes
- absence of tears
- unusually fast heart rate or fast breathing
- decrease in the number of wet nappies
How Can You Treat Diarrhoea?
If the diarrhoea and vomiting has continued for more than 4-6 hours, you should have your child assessed by a healthcare provider urgently; if the illness strikes at night, visit your nearest emergency centre.2
Should your child have mild-to-moderate dehydration, try to give them fluids as soon as possible.3 You can pick up oral rehydration solution from any pharmacy.3 You can also make your own oral rehydration solution at home.4
How To Make Your Own Oral Rehydration Solution4
- First wash your hands well. Have a clean bottle or jug ready
- You will need clean water, salt, and sugar. The water can be bottled drinking water or water that has been boiled and left to cool
- Mix 2.5 ml (half a level teaspoon) of salt and 6 level teaspoons of sugar
- Add 1 litre of clean water and mix until the salt and sugar dissolve
Give babies/infants 500 ml per 24 hours. Children aged 2-9 years should be given 1 litre per 24 hours, and children over 10 and adults: 3 litres per 24 hours.4
Encourage your child to drink small amounts of the oral rehydration solution or, if you’re breastfeeding, keep up with your schedule, as breast milk is an ideal fluid for rehydration.2 The child can be fed with milk and porridge as usual if over the age of 6 months.3
Food isn’t the main priority when you’re trying to manage diarrhoea and vomiting.2 It’s far more important to ensure that your child takes in fluids after every diarrhoeal episode, to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.2
The aims of treatment for acute diarrhoea in children are to prevent or manage dehydration, prevent weight loss, encourage catch-up growth during recovery, shorten the duration of the illness and decrease the impact of the diarrhoea on the child’s health.5
Reducing The Risk Of Getting Diarrhoea
Breastfeeding, a clean safe water supply, appropriate hand-washing and good sanitation should help prevent most cases of diarrhoea.6
Equally, a number of studies have also shown that giving probiotics helps shorten the duration of diarrhoea and prevents it from happening again.7
Says Omarjee: “Gut health refers to the health of the body’s whole digestive system, and good gut health is crucial for one’s wellbeing. If parents give children a daily, regular probiotic, this could really go a long way in promoting gut health and preventing diarrhoea and illness.”
Addressing The Severity Of Diarrhoea In South Africa
Research shows that diarrhoea is closely linked to socioeconomic status, and that children in South African living in poverty are approximately 10 times more likely to die from diarrhoea than their more privileged counterparts.8
“Many under-privileged children in South Africa do not have adequate access to clean, drinkable water and quality early childcare and development. They also experience limited access to health and nutrition services. KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), for example, is experiencing outbreaks of diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases due to the recent floods,” says Omarjee.
“Sanofi has therefore embarked on an ambitious campaign, in partnership with non-profit organisation (NPO), Save the Children South Africa, from October 2022 to assist these areas in need, and to positively impact over 2,000,000 lives through hygiene education and access to water,” says Omarjee.
Sanofi will be donating water tanks to Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres and schools in identified communities in KZN to support access to clean, drinkable water.
Education campaigns on healthy hygiene habits will also be rolled out to children and their caregivers and will be run through the ECD centres, schools and child health awareness days by ECD workers and community health workers.
“Sanofi is committed to ensuring that no child dies of a preventable disease, especially when there are effective treatments available. Parents and caregivers need to act promptly and seek assistance when instances of diarrhoea in children under the age of five do not abate swiftly,” says Omarjee.
- Awotione, O.F., et al. 2016. Systematic review: Diarrhoea in children under five years of age in South Africa (1997-2014). Tropical Medicine and International Health, 21(9), 1060-1070.
- Linde, B. 2022. Diarrhoea in children: when to worry. Mediclinic Infohub. Available at: https://www.mediclinicinfohub.co.za/diarrhoea-in-children-when-to-worry accessed 6 October 2022.
- Datuk, Z.I. 2015. The dangers of dehydration in children. Positive Parenting. Available from: https://mypositiveparenting.org/2015/12/24/the-dangers-of-dehydration-in-children/dangers-of-dehydration/ accessed 6 October 2022.
- Carberry, C. 2022. Wikihow. https://www.wikihow.com/Make-an-Oral-Rehydration-Salts-Drink-(ORS) accessed 6 October 2022.
- Nel, E. 2010. Diarrhoea and malnutrition. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 23, suppl 1, 15-18.
- Child Healthcare. n.d. How can the risk of diarrhoea be reduced? Available from: childhealthcare.co.za, accessed 29 September 2022.
- Solis, B. et al. 2002. Probiotics as a help in children suffering from malnutrition and diarrhoea. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 56, S57-59.
- Chola, L., et al. 2015. Reducing diarrhoea deaths in South Africa: costs and effects of scaling up essential interventions to prevent and treat diarrhoea in under five children. BMC Public Health, 15, 394.