Improved access to clean water, toliet and sanitation facilities reduces the risk of Diarrhoea


The Facts:

  • Diarrhoea kills 600,000 children each year;
  • More than 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to adequate toilet or sanitation facilities.

The Situation:

Both viral and bacterial infections can cause diarrhoea, and whilst the illness itself is not usually fatal, the dehydration and salt loss from the body that suffering from it causes can result in death. All age groups face this risk without the right treatment, but children are particularly at risk because they dehydrate very quickly.

Where children regularly suffer from diarrhoea, for instance in environments with limited access to clean drinking water, they are also very likely to be malnourished as a result. For infants, particularly those under six months of age, diarrhoea can cause permanent damage to intestinal development.

Oral rehydration therapy can prevent these complications, zinc tablets help children to recover more quickly, and preventative action such as better sanitation and vaccination against rotavirus will keep attacks of diarrhoea to a minimum for children.

What causes diarrhoea?

  • Contagious gastro-enteritis, often caused by rotavirus, and passed on through human or surface contact;
  • Bacterial infections from ingestion of dirt or faecal matter in food or water;
  • “Food poisoning” or ingestion of a substance the body rejects.

What can be done about it?

To reduce the causes of diarrhoea in children:

  • Exclusive breastfeeding to six months, to ensure infants are not exposed to infected food or water;
  • Removal of environmental risk through appropriate toilet facilities, washing hands with soap before eating and careful food storage;
  • Better knowledge of the seriousness of diarrhoea as a children’s illness, and that it can be avoided;
  • Access to the rotavirus vaccination which has greatly reduced the prevalence of gastric infections in children in developed nations.

To reduce the effects of diarrhoea in children:

  • Household level knowledge of simple treatments;
  • Access to Oral Rehydration Salts and zinc;
  • Rapid access to external medical facilities (clinics and hospitals) for emergency cases.