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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 14:35 GMT
Zinc cuts diarrhoea deaths
Bangladeshi children
Zinc was tested on Bangladeshi children

An international study has found that zinc supplementation during diarrhoea reduces illness and death from the disease in Bangladeshi children.

Researchers, led by Abdullah Baqui, associate professor at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, examined the impact of combining zinc therapy with an oral rehydration solution (ORS) in a study of more than 8,000 children who had diarrhoea.

They found the combination significantly cut rates of death, illness and hospitalisation among the children.

Despite medical advances, diarrhoeal diseases and the resulting dehydration are still responsible for about two million child deaths every year across the world.

Most cases occur in developing, resource-poor countries where children suffer from malnutrition and access to clean water, safe sanitation and health facilities are limited.

The children in the zinc areas received 20 mg zinc daily for seven days during each episode of diarrhoea in addition to ORS.

Antibiotics cut

Not only did zinc therapy help the children, its use led to a signficant cut in the use of antibiotics.

Lead researcher Dr Abdullah Baqui, a Bangladeshi scientist, said: "The lower rates of child morbidity and mortality with zinc therapy represent substantial benefits from a simple and inexpensive intervention that can be incorporated within existing diarrhoeal disease control efforts and which should significantly improve child health and survival."

A recent meeting of the World Health Organisation (WHO) reviewed the findings and concluded that zinc supplements are efficacious in reducing the severity and duration of diarrhoea.

However, it said further research was required to ascertain whether the use of zinc was practical in the developing world.

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

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