A new mom's passion about poo
Let's be honest. As someone who has worked in child health for many years, I have a particular passion for diarrhea. One of the leading killers of children, but so very preventable and treatable, diarrhea is often on the top of my mind. It doesn't take much for me to bring up diarrhea at the dinner table. Want to talk stools over Thanksgiving turkey? No problem!
However, even I have been surprised at just how often I can talk about poop now that I have a six-month-old son. My passion for poo has gone well beyond “professional” advocacy to ensure that children around the world are no longer dying from dehydration caused by diarrhea. I literally start wondering about poop from the minute I wake up. My son's dirty diapers, to be exact. Little did I know just how much you can determine from a baby's dirty diaper. The pediatrician will ask about how often the baby poops. I ask his daycare providers how often they change his diapers (and if they were wet or dirty. Or both!). My husband and I can spend an entire dinner conversation talking about the frequency and consistency of bowel movements. I am also keenly aware that without access to diapers and wipes, clean water, and an easy way to dispose of the mess, this would be an entirely different conversation. I may talk about poop a lot, but it's (mostly) thankfully contained to the diaper!
Despite my ongoing (and increasing!) focus on poop, one thing remains: entirely too many children continue to die from diarrhea. Clean water and access to improved sanitation are woefully lacking in too many communities around the world. Caregivers often assume diarrhea is a “normal” part of being a baby or young child and as a result seek treatment too late or treat it inappropriately. Only 35% of children receive oral rehydration salts (ORS) when they present with diarrhea. The number of children who receive zinc, a proven supplement that helps to shorten the duration of diarrhea and prevent future episodes, is even lower. The number of children still (inappropriately) receiving antibiotics for diarrhea boggles the mind.
As we all charge into the post-2015 era, I worry that my fixation on diarrhea - and child health more broadly - isn't felt by the decision makers and policy makers in the countries where we work. I am eternally grateful that my son has access to clean water and, when he's ready, a flushable toilet. The pediatrician is a call away, and I can easily access treatment at any number of pharmacies. But we must make this a reality for children the world round. We have no more excuses: we know what works, and we know how to save lives. We need to elevate the dangers of diarrhea - and the importance of child health - to ensure that policies allow for appropriate treatment, health providers are adequately trained, caregivers know where to access ORS and zinc, clean water is available, and that the health of each and every child is taken as seriously as I take my son's diapers. I joke about my obsession with poop, but ending preventable child deaths really is no laughing matter.