Diarrhea is the second-leading cause of child deaths worldwide, yet despite easy, cost-effective solutions, attention and funding remain low. In fact, in many low-income countries momentum has slowed—even stalled—over the last decade.
A crowded health landscape, limited funding, and insufficient awareness of the evidence on interventions have conspired to keep diarrheal disease low on the list of global and country health priorities.
Today, though, the tide is turning, and you can join with others to help tackle this challenge. New tools and cornerstone solutions are helping to inspire action by health policymakers around the world. Now is the time for advocates, scientists, academics, practitioners, health and development officials, and donors to join their voices.
Together, we can rebuild momentum and overcome the devastating toll that diarrhea takes on children, families, and communities around the world. We are pleased to provide the tools below to help you spread the word about global diarrheal disease burden and the solutions to address it. Please contact us to suggest additional resources.
How to talk about diarrheal disease
Consistent and compelling messages are vitally important in order to make an impact with any audience. The best messages are simple ones that resonate. PATH developed these core messages for use by anyone interested in communicating the impact of diarrhea on the health and development of children and families around the world. It is also a guide to communicating the value of a coordinated approach to diarrheal disease control and the proven, affordable solutions available today to solve the problem.
This message map provides talking points to help advocates and educators clearly communicate the problem—and its solutions—to civic and government leaders, policymakers, donors, and other stakeholders. Use these messages as a guide, and then add your own supporting points or details to tailor communications according to your context and environment. Consider using these messages in presentations, meetings, policy briefs, or stories on child health. Add them to everyday conversation to help those around you understand the importance of working together to overcome diarrheal disease.
Diarrheal disease: key facts
- Diarrhea takes the lives of more than 4,000 children each day and 1.5 million every year. It is the second-leading killer of children under age 5 after acute respiratory infections like pneumonia.1
- Diarrheal disease is a global killer. Its burden is greatest in the developing countries of Asia and Africa, where access to clean water, sanitation, and urgent medical care may be limited.
Rotavirus is the most common and deadly form of severe diarrhea.
- While nearly every child will contract rotavirus, most rotavirus deaths happen in poor countries where treatment for severe infections is often out of reach.
- Rotavirus-related diarrheal disease takes the lives of more than 500,000 children under 5 every year and is responsible for the hospitalization of millions more around the world.2
- More than 85 percent of rotavirus deaths occur in developing countries in Africa and Asia.3
- First-of-their-kind data from studies in Africa and Mexico recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrate the efficacy and impact of vaccination in significantly reducing severe rotavirus infections among children worldwide.
- These data informed a World Health Organization recommendation that all countries include rotavirus vaccines in their national immunization programs. The GAVI Alliance has committed to support rotavirus vaccine introduction in developing countries worldwide.
- Rotavirus vaccines have been introduced in more than 20 countries, primarily in the industrialized world, and are having a powerful impact on children’s health. In the US, rotavirus vaccination since 2006 has led to dramatic drops in rotavirus-related hospitalizations by as much as 80 percent.4
Nearly nine out of ten child deaths due to diarrhea could be prevented with solutions available today.
- Contaminated hands are a common way to spread illnesses–including pneumonia and diarrhea, which are the leading killers of children worldwide. About 3.5 million children in developing nations lose their lives to these preventable illnesses each year.5
- Handwashing with soap is a low-cost and highly effective way to protect children from the most common causes of child death–pneumonia and diarrheal disease.
- Poor hygiene, lack of access to sanitation and unsafe drinking water together are responsible for 88 percent of diarrheal disease infections.6
- The simple act of handwashing with soap is up to 40 percent effective in reducing diarrheal disease incidences.
- Point-of-use water treatment and safe storage can reduce diarrhea by 30 to 50 percent.7
- When implemented correctly, sanitation can reduce diarrheal disease by 36 percent.8
- Since the 1970s, oral rehydration solution (ORS) has saved an estimated 50 million lives.9
- Zinc is a critical new intervention for treating diarrhea. We can save lives with proven lifesaving prevention and treatment methods available today.
This presentation gives a concise overview of the problem of diarrheal disease, the solutions, and the ways to take action on this issue. Use the full presentation, or pull content from the slides to incorporate them into your own presentations. This slide-set is a useful tool to visually share the message with your colleagues, elected officials, and your community.
Presentation on diarrheal disease and interventions (2.5 MB PPT)
Evidence-based advocacy is the best way to increase demand for solutions. In-depth analysis and research sponsored by PATH and others explores the issue of diarrheal disease and ways to defeat this global killer. Use these reports to provide strong research–based evidence for your messages. Share these reports with policymakers and other advocates or distribute them prior to presentations at scientific and medical conferences.
Diarrheal Disease: Solutions to Defeat a Global Killer
Published: May 12, 2009
Download PATH's report (2.3 MB PDF)
Diarrheal Disease Advocacy: Findings from a Scan of the Global Policy and Funding Landscape
Published: July 15, 2008
Download PATH’s report (205 KB PDF)
Use of Formative Research in Developing a Knowledge Translation Approach to Rotavirus Vaccine Introduction in Developing Countries
Authors: Simpson E, Wittet S, Bonilla J, et al.
Download the report (300 KB PDF)
Common Virus and Senseless Killer: A Briefing Paper on Rotavirus
Published: September 2009
Download PATH's paper (321 KB PDF)
PATH fact sheets
- An Integrated Approach to Confronting Diarrheal Disease (219 KB PDF)
- Protecting Young Children From Diarrheal Disease (270 KB)
- Zinc Treatment for Diarrhea (159 KB PDF)
- Breastfeeding and Diarrhea (159 KB PDF)
- A Comprehensive Approach to Rotavirus Vaccines (100 KB PDF)
1UNICEF, World Health Organization. Diarrhoea: Why Children Are Still Dying and What Can be Done. New York, Geneva: UNICEF, WHO; 2009.
2WHO. Rotavirus vaccines. WHO Position Paper. Weekly Epidemiological Record. 2007;82(32):285-295.
3WHO. Global networks for surveillance of rotavirus gastroenteritis, 2001–2008. Weekly Epidemiological Record. 2008;83(47):421–428.
4US Center for Disease Control. Delayed onset and diminished magnitude of rotavirus activity—United States, November 2007–May 2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2008;57(25):697–700.
5,6Black RE, Morris S, Bryce J, Where and Why are 10 Million Children Dying Every Year?, The Lancet, 2003; 361 (9376): 2226-2234.
7Clasen T, Roberts I, Rabie T, Schmidt W, Cairncross S. Interventions to improve water quality for preventing diarrhoea. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2006;3.
8Cumming O. Tackling the Silent Killer. The Case for Sanitation. London: WaterAid; 2008.
9WHO promotes research to avert diarrhea deaths [press release]. Geneva: WHO; March 10, 2009.