Preventing and Treating Diarrheal Disease

Diarrhea, a leading killer of children under five years, is both preventable and treatable with simple and cost-effective interventions.

Evidence-Based Interventions to Prevent and Treat Diarrheal Disease

The current treatment package for diarrhea was recommended in a 2004 WHO and UNICEF joint statement and consists of a combination of both low-osmolarity oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc. Adding zinc treatment has been shown to reduce the duration and frequency of each illness episode. The combined ORS/zinc treatment should be combined with continued feeding of the child, including increased fluid intake and breastfeeding. Important preventive interventions include: increasing coverage of the rotavirus and measles vaccines; promoting exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and vitamin A supplementation; as well as water, sanitation and hygiene interventions including handwashing with soap.

Key Diarrheal Disease Prevention Activities
MCHIP advocated globally for increased visibility of diarrheal disease as a prominent, yet often forgotten, killer of children, and for the integration of diarrheal disease programs with other child health programs (including pneumonia, malaria, nutrition and newborn health initiatives). In 2013, MCHIP provided technical assistance in the development of the integrated Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhea (GAPPD), which details a roadmap of interventions that protect, prevent and treat these childhood illnesses. MCHIP also participated in the Diarrhea and Pneumonia Working Group, which supported treatment scale-up in 10 high-burden countries.

At the country level, MCHIP worked to make zinc accessible to all by ensuring its classification as an over-the-counter medicine. In health facilities, MCHIP worked to ensure that oral rehydration therapy (ORT) corners are functioning with both supplies and trained health staff. MCHIP contributed to creating and revising health worker job aids and treatment guidelines that included evidence-based, high-impact interventions such as ORS/zinc,continued feeding and breastfeeding, and key water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions (including handwashing with soap). To bring lifesaving case management of diarrhea to the unreached, MCHIP supported the introduction and expansion of integrated Community Case Management (iCCM). (For more information about MCHIP’s accomplishments in preventing diarrhea through introduction and expansion of rotavirus and measles vaccines, click here.)

Key Results

The increased attention on child health in general, and on diarrheal disease in particular, reflects the substantial investments that MCHIP made in global advocacy. The GAPPD report helped national governments and their partners in scaling up prevention and treatment interventions that will help end preventable child deaths. MCHIP helped to reach the previously unreached by supporting the introduction and expansion of iCCM at both global and national levels.


1 UNICEF Countdown 2012 report