Across the world, diarrhoea was attributed as the cause for more than half a million child deaths in 2017, according to the World Health Organisation. Independent Media Archives

While diarrhoea is a fairly common ailment during the warmer months, it remains one of the biggest threats to children under five and is one of the leading causes of death in this age group in developing countries.

‘Across the world, diarrhoea was attributed as the cause for more than half a million child deaths in 2017, according to the World Health Organisation. In Cape Town, we have made significant strides in reducing the mortality rate due to dehydration and diarrhoea, but the reality is that deaths from diarrhoea are preventable if the warning signs are picked up early enough and fast, appropriate action is taken,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, Councillor Zahid Badroodien.

Between November and May, the number of diarrhoea cases typically increases throughout the population as the warmer weather promotes the spread of germs. This is also known as surge season. Symptoms of diarrhoea include loose/watery stools, nausea, vomiting and fever.

In Cape Town there are, on average, between 600 and 700 cases of diarrhoea in children under five reported each week. Approximately 8% of these cases present with some level of dehydration.

‘While diarrhoea is preventable through good personal and food hygiene practices, the fact is that many people contract it, both young and old. In our vulnerable groups which include young children, it is important to mitigate the risk of dehydration. This is done through early recognition of diarrhoea and immediately starting oral rehydration therapy or seeking medical treatment,’ added Councillor Badroodien.

Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) is a simple and cost-effective way to treat dehydration caused by diarrhoea and it can easily be performed at home using one litre of clean water, six level teaspoons of sugar and half a level teaspoon of salt. Giving this solution to a child can prevent dehydration caused by diarrhoea. Parents should start ORT as soon as a child starts having loose stools, and before s/he is dehydrated. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to learn about the symptoms of dehydration in children which include: passing little urine, a dry mouth, a dry tongue and lips, fewer tears when crying, sunken eyes, weakness, and being irritable or lethargic.

'We appeal to parents and caregivers to monitor children closely at all times, familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of dehydration due to diarrhoea and to take their child to the nearest health facility as soon as possible if they have any signs of dehydration. One of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of diarrhoea is to practise proper hygiene, specifically the washing of hands after using the bathroom, or changing a nappy and especially before handling food. This counts for adults, but also children,’ said Councillor Badroodien.