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Diarrhea treatment

ORS and zinc deserve equal investment to defeat diarrheal disease

ORS and zinc deserve equal investment to defeat diarrheal disease

In a guest blog for IZiNCG, Hope Randall, Digital Communications Officer at PATH’s Defeat Diarrheal Disease (DefeatDD) Initiative asks you to get behind a proposal to add co-packaged oral rehydration solution + zinc to national essential medicines lists.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends both oral rehydration solution (ORS) and zinc as the gold standard treatment for diarrhea, yet awareness of and access to both remains remarkably low. This is even truer of zinc than of ORS. 

Important nutrients like zinc, that are key for healthy growth and development, become depleted when a child has diarrhea. A vicious cycle of malnutrition and repeated infections is a common struggle for children who survive. Zinc helps ameliorate these effects in a child’s body, reducing the duration and severity of diarrhea and prevents future episodes for up to three months. Zinc also picks up where ORS leaves off, decreasing mortality or treatment failure by 40%. 

Low awareness is a key barrier to combined use of these medicines—only about a third of the children who need ORS get it—but use of zinc as a diarrhea treatment is even lower, with low awareness contributing to additional logistical barriers like facility stock-outs. And even in the rare event that the stars of awareness and availability are aligned, there is still affordability to contend with.  

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most powerful. PATH and other global stakeholders are advocating for more countries to follow in the footsteps of Ghana, Zambia, Kenya, Senegal, and Vietnam to include co-packaged ORS + zinc into their national essential medicines lists for children. 


Many countries include ORS and zinc in their national lists as separate medicines, which is a good beginning. But adding co-packaged ORS + zinc as a single entity to the list holds greater potential to boost awareness and uptake of the WHO-recommended combined treatment for diarrhea. 

The listing helps prioritize the co-pack in country expenditures, procurement and supply, and training of healthcare providers. Essentially, it creates an enabling environment for greater use of both medicines together, and all at a lower cost to families: in some countries, co-packaged ORS + zinc is estimated to be 46% more affordable than purchasing both medicines separately. Ultimately, that means greater healing and protection of children from the destructive impact of diarrheal infections.

And if two medicines are what it takes to protect children from the effects of diarrhea, it seems right to think of them as a non-negotiable package deal. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between them. Learn more about how to get involved.