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Johns Hopkins Researchers Urge Renewed Efforts for Combating Diarrheal Disease

New interventions for treatment of the disease, such as an improved oral rehydration formulation and rotavirus vaccines, make the still-deadly disease easier to combat.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are calling for wider use of oral rehydration solution (ORS), zinc supplementation, and rotavirus vaccine to reduce the number of diarrheal disease-related deaths.

According to lead author Mathuram Santosham, professor, Department of International Health, even with deaths from diarrheal disease dropping significantly between 1980 and 2008, the illness remains a leading killer for children younger than age 5. Santosham and fellow researchers state that “new interventions for treatment of diarrheal disease, such as an improved low osmolarity ORS, zinc supplementation, and rotavirus vaccines for prevention of diarrhea provide an opportunity to revitalize diarrhea-control programs around the world.” The researchers are urging international agencies, donor communities, and developing countries to renew their efforts to prevent deaths from diarrheal disease.

The team highlights a number of treatments for the management of the illness—an improved oral rehydration formulation, zinc supplementation, and rotavirus vaccines—that “provide an opportunity to revitalize diarrhea-control programs around the world.”

"Unfortunately, diarrhea treatment in many countries is not a priority,” the authors write. “Therefore, we cannot assume that diarrhea treatment will improve simply through introduction of zinc and low osmolarity oral solutions to these health systems. National governments and donors should recognize the urgent need for new resources to strengthen health systems for delivery of oral rehydration solution and zinc while maintaining an adequate supply chain and training health workers."

Writing in the current issue of The Lancet, the researchers stated that these improvements in treatment options “make now the time to revitalize efforts to reduce diarrhea mortality worldwide.”