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National Children’s Day: Raising awareness of gut health in youngsters

Bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections can all affect the gut health of children. l LUCAS HOANG/UNSPLASH

Bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections can all affect the gut health of children. l LUCAS HOANG/UNSPLASH

Published Nov 4, 2023


The health of youngster’s is set to be in the spotlight as Sanofi joins the nation in commemorating National Children's Day on November 4. The occasion is dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights and well-being of children.

As part of its commitment to improving children's health, the global healthcare leader has been running a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of gut health and diarrhoea prevention, particularly among young children who are most vulnerable to the effects of the health ailments.

And in collaboration with the non-profit organisation Save the Children South Africa, this ambitious campaign aims to impact over 2 million lives by 2025.

The focus of the initiative is also on improving access to clean water and providing hygiene and nutrition education.

South Africa has seen an increase in diarrhoeal disease outbreaks recently as a result of unsafe water sources and unhygienic conditions, which have also been exacerbated by the effects of load shedding.

Common causes of gut health issues in children can vary, but some of the most common ones include bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. These health condition can be contracted through contaminated food or water, poor sanitation or close contact with infected individuals.

In addition, health experts warn that a diet lacking in essential nutrients, fibre and probiotics can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and contribute to health ailments. Consuming a high amount of processed foods, sugars, and unhealthy fats can also negatively impact gut health.

Meanwhile, flooding and landslides which have impacted scores of people, have led to a higher incidence of gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, caused by intestinal infections from contaminated food, water, or hands.

This includes in South Africa where there has been a total of 1 073 suspected cases of cholera in five provinces. Of these cases, 198 have been confirmed through laboratory testing between February 1 and July 4, this year.

The province with the highest number of cases is Gauteng, specifically in Hammanskraal, Tshwane, with 176 cases. The other affected provinces include the Free State, the North West, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga. Testing conducted in both public and private laboratories identified the cases.

Meanwhile, diarrhoea is responsible for 19% of deaths among children under five in South Africa and 46% on the African continent. It poses various risks and complications, including life-threatening dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

If left untreated, it can lead to nutritional deterioration due to disrupted digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Head of scientific affairs at Sanofi’s consumer healthcare country, Momeena Omarjee, explained that their focus was to prevent avoidable diseases in children.

Since October last year (2022), Sanofi has donated water tanks and hand-washing stations to Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDs) in KwaZulu-Natal in-need communities. This follows the floods that destroyed infrastructure in KZN in recent years.

The Sanofi initiative aims to ensure access to clean and drinkable water, ultimately reducing the prevalence of diarrhoea and associated deaths in children under five.

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) estimates that 20% of deaths of those under the age of five may be attributed to diarrhoea, with 31 436 cases recorded in 2016. Meawhile, other sources estimate the mortality rate to be between 8% and 24%.

Experts also warn that children living in poverty-stricken environments are at a significantly higher risk of dying from diarrhoea, compared to their more advantaged peers.

Omarjee believes that providing both access to clean water, as well as early childcare and development, were crucial for the well-being of vulnerable children.

Studies have shown that probiotics, such as Enterogermina, can shorten the duration of diarrhoea and prevent the recurrence of episodes. Probiotics can also help prevent diarrhoea infections in malnourished infants.

“Children living in poverty-stricken environments are approximately 10 times more likely to die from diarrhoea than their more privileged counterparts,” Omarjee said.

“Providing adequate access to clean, drinkable water and quality early childcare and development will impact the lives and health of so many vulnerable children.”

And through its partnership with Save the Children, Sanofi has already reached over 54 000 people directly and almost 36 million indirectly. As they continue their efforts to impact over 2 million lives.