Cheers to ORS!

Jul 20, 2022


Nurse holds up a container in each hand which is co-packaged oral rehydration solution and zinc

Rose Kanali, a helth practitoner at Kilingili Health Centre in Kakamega, Kenya, displays co-packaged oral rehydration solution and zinc, the WHO/UNICEF-recommended treatment for childhood diarrhea. Photo: PATH/Anthony Karumba.

Are you parched for good news? Here’s a refreshing headline to whet your whistle: July 29 commemorates World ORS Day in honor of the simple solution that continues to save millions of lives: oral rehydration solution.

Sugar, water, and salt. That’s all it takes to save a child’s life from deadly dehydration. It costs pennies, and pediatricians call the results miraculous.

The Lancet calls ORS one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the twentieth century

The biochemical breakthrough that inspired the idea behind ORS is potentially the most important medical discovery of the twentieth century, according to The Lancet. In the 1980s, UNICEF’s Jim Grant advanced vaccines and ORS as his “twin engines” for child health. In 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recommended oral rehydration solution (AND zinc – we can’t neglect zinc!) as the cornerstone treatment for childhood diarrhea.  

In 2019, WHO added co-packaged ORS and zinc to its list of essential medicines to increase awareness, access, and uptake of both medicines for treating diarrhea. Today, awareness is more important than ever as the world faces antimicrobial resistance driven partially by the inappropriate use of antibiotics for ailments like diarrhea.

In line with WHO, Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Vietnam, and Zambia have added co-packaged ORS and zinc to their national essential medicine lists. And because we know combining ORS and zinc improves uptake and decreases costs, the goal now is to add more countries to that list.

We have so much more work to do: today, only 15% of children who need ORS and zinc access it. But advocates like you give us a glass half-full perspective.

We’ll be celebrating next week with steady stream of ORS and co-pack content on Twitter and invite you to dive in with a retweet or a post of your own using the hashtag #DefeatDD. Here’s to you, and to health and hydration for all!