In 2017, 1.6 million people died because of diarrheal diseases, making these diseases among the leading causes of death globally (Our World in Data). Caused mostly by rotaviruses and shigella bacteria, these diseases cause the highest mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Everyday, diarrhea kills 2,195 children--more than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined (CDC).
Although these statistics are dire, preventing diarrheal disease is quite simple and cost-effective. Implementation is just the problem.
Before we get into solutions, let’s look at what diarrhea is:
It causes death by depleting body fluids resulting in dehydration
Diarrhea can have a severe impact on childhood development and growth
About 88% of diarrhea-associated deaths are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitization, and insufficient hygiene.
Germs are often spread through the hands of food preparers.
People and animals often defecate near water sources used for drinking/hand-washing.
The solutions seem pretty simple: vaccinate for rotavirus, promote hand-washing, and provide safe water and adequate waste disposal. Although these are indeed more basic solutions compared to some other infectious diseases, we have to remember how we take hand-washing for granted.
Washing our hands with soap and water seems basic enough. However, this is difficult in low-income countries where adequate hand-washing facilities do not exist. In 42 countries, less than half of households have basic hand-washing facilities, especially for those living in rural areas (World Bank).
Because of this, it’s important that health organizations work closely with local governments to establish proper hand-washing facilities and educate people about proper hand-washing techniques in order to minimize the spread of diarrheal diseases.