Defeating Diarrhea in Bangladesh


SEATTLE, Washington – Diarrhea is a deadly disease; however, various nations, including Bangladesh, are taking proactive measures to eradicate it. Diarrhea is the second leading cause of mortality for children under the age of five. It is capable of killing more than 1,300 children every day or almost 500,000 children annually. While the numbers are staggering, numerous countries all around the world have made great strides with Bangladesh taking the lead. Certainly, the defeat of diarrhea in Bangladesh is the exemplar of a successful fight against this deadly killer. Below are some indicators and explanations of how Bangladesh defeated diarrhea.

Reduction in Diarrheal Mortality

During a 1993-94 survey, 14 percent of parents interviewed had shared that their infants (six -11 months), had recent episodes of diarrhea. By 2004, the rate had fallen to 12 percent, and by 2014 it had dropped to 7 percent, cutting the number of cases in half in just 20 years. Most importantly, the progress that Bangladesh has made in reducing the mortality rate from diarrheal diseases is even more remarkable.

From 2003 to 2017, mortality from diarrhea in Bangladesh had dropped by 95 percentAccording to WHO, “diarrhea had killed more than 560 per million people in Bangladesh” in 2003. This had dropped to 145 deaths per million by 2013. In 2017, the death rate had dropped to only 3 per every million people. As a result, the child mortality rate also decreased significantly from 2000 to 2016. Diarrhea in Bangladesh is proving to be less fatal for its victim as Bangladesh has cut down the number of child deaths under the age of five by 81.8 percent from 38,877 to close to 7,000.

Oral Rehydration Salts and Zinc Supplements

Furthermore, Bangladesh is one of the pioneers in adopting programs that target diarrhea prevention and treatment. This includes establishing the world’s only hospital dedicated to researching diarrheal diseases: the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR, B). During the 1960s, the center formulated Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) to prevent diarrheal disease mortality in children.

In addition to the mass production and distribution of ORS, the country’s government has also gotten involved. In fact, the government has taken time to promote the use of zinc supplements after the ICDDR, B found that zinc helped reduce the duration of diarrhea and lessen the risk of recurrence. As a matter of fact, the combined use of ORS and zinc supplements for diarrhea treatment, along with an endorsement from the government, has helped to save 161 lives per 1000 births by 2015 compared to 1998.

Eradicating Open Defecation

Unfortunately, the practice of open defecation is a major public health menace in poor countries as it contaminates the water sources and allows for the mass spreading of disease. Therefore, the successful eradication of open defecation has made been a pivotal contribution in reducing diarrhea in Bangladesh. In 2003, 42 percent of the population defecated in the open.

However, in just over a decade, the portion of people in this densely populated nation still practicing open defecation dropped to below 1 percent. This is an impressive achievement that has yet to be attained by its wealthier neighbor, India. In short, this change occurred with the combination of support from NGOs and pressure from local people to change the social norms.

Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) Program

From 2000-2006, CLTS was an approach devised in Bangladesh that is effective in changing the collective behavior of people regarding latrine usage. The campaigns worked closely with the local representatives. This allowed for the citizens to evoke their own sense of pride towards poor sanitation. Owning a toilet now is considered a symbol of status and dignity and has become a consideration for marriages.

The CLTS programs avoided subsidizing toilets and rather focuses on the individuals purchasing their own through local low-cost constructors. This approach made toilets more accessible and affordable to even the poorest population. It is the invention of these innovative programs that
contributes to reducing diarrhea in Bangladesh.
Overall, the government’s commitment, innovative campaigns and improved sanitation were vital in defeating diarrhea in Bangladesh. While the nation still struggles with poverty, the undeniable achievement in Bangladesh can serve as an example for other countries to follow.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr


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