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Saturday, 18 May, 2002, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Success in the diarrhoea battle
Patients and visitors at a Dhaka hospital
Oral Rehydration Solution offers a bright ray of hope
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By Alastair Lawson
BBC correspondent in Dhaka

The biggest hospital for diarrhoea patients in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, was celebrating on Saturday.

In the beginning 5 million children were dying from diarrhoea, but now it's down to a bit more than 1 million

Professor LA Persson, Dhaka
The internationally funded Centre for Health and Population Research says that its Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) has now saved 40 million lives in Bangladesh and other developing countries.

The centre's researchers developed ORS in the late 1970s, and its use has been successfully expanded across the world.

ORS is a simple mixture of drinking water, mineral salts and sometimes sugar.

It is today credited with ensuring that diarrhoea is no longer the most common killer of children in the world.

Lives saved

It is estimated by the centre that ORS, which is relatively cheap and easy-to-use, still saves 3 million children annually.

Diarrhoea patient at a Bangladeshi clinic
Diarrhoea was the biggest killer of children
The British medical publication, The Lancet, described ORS as the most important medical advance in the 20th century.

The figures released by the centre seem to bear that out.

"This has been a world-wide effort and from the very beginning estimates have been made of the number of lives that were saved," said Professor Lars Ake Persson of the Centre for Health and Population Research.

"In the beginning 5 million children were dying from diarrhoea, but now it's down to a bit more than 1 million."

Further development

The centre's figures show that over the past two decades, ORS has saved millions of lives in Bangladesh alone.

Boy scavenging for bottles at a Dhaka rubbish tip
Poverty makes children especially vulnerable
They show that Bangladeshis use 100 million packets of ORS each year.

It is relatively cheap and easy-to-use. A mother can administer treatment to her children without contacting doctors.

Scientists at the centre say that every year there are still 1.5 million people throughout the world who die of diarrhoea.

They say that their aim now is to improve ORS treatment so that the formula works even quicker on diarrhoea sufferers.

See also:

16 Jan 02 | South Asia
Arsenic affecting Bangladesh crops
06 Dec 01 | South Asia
Aids warning for Bangladesh army
23 Oct 01 | South Asia
Dhaka on anthrax alert
10 Sep 01 | South Asia
More die in Bangladesh dengue outbreak
07 May 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh hospital wins Gates award
23 Jul 99 | Health
Hope for diarrhoea vaccine
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