Making ORT a household habit

Diarrhoeal dehydration is a leading child killer in developing countries, largely because of inadequate sanitation. It claimed the lives of an estimated 2.2 million children under age 5 in 1995 alone. As many as 90% of these deaths could have been prevented with ORT (oral rehydration therapy). 

ORTódefined by WHO in 1993 as an increased volume of fluids, either oral rehydration salts (ORS) or other recommended home fluids, along with continued feedingóaddresses the dehydration promptly, by replacing body fluids lost by diarrhoea at the first sign of the disease.

Children in the 15 developing countries listed come down with diarrhoea from 2 to 6 times each year. In 10 of these countries, more than 80% of children are given ORT; in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Pakistan, virtually every child is treated with ORT. 

In China, 85% of diarrhoeal episodes are treated with ORT.

Yet, while significant progress has been made in recent years, it is difficult to accurately measure the gains. A previous definition of ORT simply called for giving the child ORS or home fluids, without specifying the importance of the volume of fluids or of continued feeding. Since the definition was modified only in 1993, most survey data, including those in this table, are still based on the earlier definition. About three quarters of the households in developing countries now use ORT as defined before 1993, up from 38% in 1994. But only about one third of homes now use ORT following the new definition, a more effective treatment for diarrhoeal dehydration.

Progress in oral rehydration 
ORS/RHF* use in countries with the most diarrhoeal episodes among under-5s per year
Estimated annual
diarrhoeal episodes
% of diarrhoeal
episodes treated
China 360 85
India 310 67
Nigeria 110 86
Pakistan 90 97
Bangladesh 70 96
Brazil 50 83
Ethiopia 50 95
Congo, Dem. Rep. 50 90
Indonesia 40 99
Mexico 30 81
Philippines 30 63
Sudan** 30 35
Tanzania 30 90
Iran** 20 37
Kenya 20 76
*Oral rehydration salts/recommended home fluids. 
**Excludes RHF. 
Note: Estimated diarrhoeal episodes are best estimates from a variety of sources. 
Sources: National household surveys including DHS and MICS reports, 1993-1996.
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