The Unfortunate Misconception of ORT

One of the leading causes of death and hospitalizations for infants and children within the global health community is attributed to diarrheal diseases. It is estimated that this preventable and treatable condition annually kills 760,000 children under the age of five. (WHO, 2013)  And from a global health perspective, there are nearly, 1.7 billion cases of diarrheal disease. (Ibid) And in developing countries, extremely high infant and children mortality rates are caused by dehydration which in turn is a major symptom of diarrheal disease. One must wonder why a treatable and preventable condition is effecting the global health community at such a morbidity and high rate.

Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) was created in the early 1960s to treat cholera patients in the Philippians and East Pakistan (which is also known as Bangladesh). And in 1971, ORT was identified as an effective solution in treating a diarrheal disease such as cholera during crisis situations. (Qureshi, 2010) The original ingredients of ORT combined a fairly simple mixture of sugar, salt and clean water. When compared to intravenous treatment for dehydration, ORT was considered the most cost-effective and efficient strategy in treating diarrheal diseases in both children and adults. Administering the ORT mixture did not require any medical personnel and the ingredients are considered cheap.

So why are there still high morbidity and mortality rates for diarrheal diseases among children? One issue can be credited to the lack of access to clean water in some regions of developing countries. Another cause could be related to the current health status of an individual. Malnourished and chronically ill patients have an increased risk of dying from a diarrheal disease. And while these causes are serious and require further attention, a common misunderstanding of ORT may also be a possible contributor in the morbidity and mortality rates of diarrheal disease.

While ORT is still considered an “important medical advancement” as declared by the Lancet in 1978, there are some disadvantages which may impact the utilization rate of ORT. (Ibid) One major issue of ORT is that while an individual is on the ORT regimen, they may continue to experience diarrheal symptoms. Also some ORT kits are packaged as being unflavored but there are many reports of a strong salty taste which makes it difficult to administer to children. And lastly, the various versions of ORT may confuse an individual in properly creating an ORT mixture.

While the benefits of ORT greatly outweigh the disadvantages mentioned, more attention needs to be focused on why so many children are dying across the world from an avoidable and preventable condition.

References

Qureshi, N. A. (2010). Oral Rehydration Therapy. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

WHO, W. H. (2013, April). Diarrhoeal Disease Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs330/en/

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