Taking the “Die” Out of Diarrhea

Diarrhea. Just say the word out loud and watch people cringe. It is so sickening that no one wants to hear about it, let alone have it.

One of America’s most trusted healthcare websites, WebMD, says,

When you have diarrhea, your bowel movements (or stools) are loose and watery. It’s very common and usually not serious. Many people get diarrhea once or twice each year. It normally lasts 2 to 3 days, and you can treat it with over-the-counter medicines.

But diarrhea can also be deadly. This is especially true in developing countries where hundreds of thousands of people die from it every year. Many of those fatalities are young children under the age of five who live in slums or remote areas where clean water and safe sanitation services are not readily available and where personal hygiene education is lacking.

A recent article in The Economic Times section of The India Times pointed to the need for more personal hygiene training in an article led with the headline, “Getting People to Use Toilets Is Next Big Challenge.” The operative phrase in that title is “to use.” This highlights one of the many challenges that government agencies and NGOs have in addressing health and sanitation issues successfully. Whether it is possible to build enough toilets and sanitary waste disposal systems for everyone who needs them is open for debate. The greater question seems to be, “If we build them, will they come?”

Make a mental bookmark. We’ll return to this later. First, let’s review the reasons why the population in some parts of the world needs our help to fight the epidemic of diarrheal deaths and its causes.

Where in the World Is Diarrhea Deadly?

Every minute of every day a child dies from an illness we know how to prevent and treat – diarrhea,” according to a report from Save the Children. That’s over 500,000 children who die per year from a sickness that we think is “usually not serious.”

In 2017, The Economic Times reported that nearly 42 percent of those children, about 210,000, occurred in India and Nigeria combined in 2015.

Citing information from the same year, IndiaSpend divulged that an average of 321 children succumbed to diarrhea every day in India alone. That is more than 117,000 per year in a place that is central to our outreach.

While those numbers sound like bad news – and they are – they represent, nonetheless, a 52% improvement in India over the decade from 2006 to 2015.

Why in the World Is Diarrhea Deadly?

This is typically the place in reports of this nature focus on the causes of chronic and acute diarrhea. That’s not a bad thing. Unless we understand the root cause of the illness, we can’t begin to adequately address the eradication of the problem. And this is a problem that can be eradicated as indicated by the improved statistics already noted.

The overarching root cause is the continual exposure to contaminated water and unsanitary living conditions that include the practice of open defecation. Children are highly susceptible to water-borne and vector-borne bacteria or viruses that attack the digestive system. Diarrhea is not only a debilitating result but, in a very practical sense, it is part of our bodies’ attempt to rid ourselves of the actual illness.

Much of Gospel for Asia’s practical work is concentrated on helping our local partners in South Asia to provide clean water sources and safer sanitation facilities to poverty-stricken families in urban slums and remote rural villages. Along with the work of other NGOs and the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the Clean India Mission launched by Prime Minister Modi in October 2014, it may be possible to reach the goal of making all of India Open Defecation Free (ODF) by October 2019.

Note: The India Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation defines ODF as “the termination of fecal-oral transmission, defined by no visible feces found in the environment or village and every household as well as public/community institutions using safe technology option for disposal of feces“.

What in the World Can We Do to Stop Death by Diarrhea?

Providing clean water and safe sanitation systems is a logical starting point. Without both, the battle is an uphill climb. That’s why Gospel for Asia (GFA) continues its commitment to provide these necessities that so many of us take for granted. In 2016 alone, ministry partners of GFA drilled and donated 6,822 Jesus Wells in communities needing clean water, provided 14,886 BioSand water filters to families and individuals, and constructed 10,512 sanitary toilet facilities in needy communities.

Now, let’s return to that mental bookmark where we asked the question, “If we build it, will they come.”

There are at least two awareness issues that must be addressed to successfully reduce and eliminate deaths due to diarrhea.

One need is to teach families that one of the most vital components for treating cases of diarrhea is rehydration. Uninformed families may not realize that consuming water – clean water – is essential to overcoming diarrhea because it causes dehydration. Our body needs to be hydrated to effectively fight illness.

The other need is to educate people that behavioral change is necessary. While everyone welcomes clean water, there are many who prefer open defecation. For some, it is “the way we have always done it.” For others, it is a matter of convenience. Others may choose to defecate in the open because public facilities are not properly cleaned or charge a fee, or both.

The point is that people need to be educated about matters of personal hygiene whether it is the awareness of the need for hydration or whether it is the awareness of the dangers associated with open defecation, it is evident that education is necessary. Gospel for Asia (GFA) understands this and helps to provide that awareness by supporting hospitals, Health Awareness Programs like Medical Camps, and community outreaches like the Sisters of Compassion.

Educating people in this portion of the 10/40 Window in South Asia is a critical component for eradicating the widespread illness and mortality due to diarrhea. And public support enables Gospel for Asia (GFA) to meet these essential needs, to raise awareness of the causes of and remedies for diarrhea, and to demonstrate God’s love through the gifts of clean water sources and sanitation facilities among “the least of these.”

Learn more about how you can help to get involved with God’s work in Asia.


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