Zinc treatment is a simple, inexpensive, and critical new tool for treating diarrheal episodes among children in the developing world.
Studies suggest that providing children with a 10- to 14-day course of zinc treatment can reduce the duration and severity of diarrheal episodes and may also prevent future episodes for up to three months.1 In fact, a systematic review found that zinc treatment could prevent nearly one in four diarrhea deaths.2
Use of zinc for diarrhea treatment can also increase use of oral rehydration solution (ORS), and reduce inappropriate use of antibiotics and antidiarrheal medications. Because zinc strengthens the immune system, children receiving zinc for diarrhea also may recover more quickly, with greater strength and appetites.3
In 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF issued a joint statement regarding the clinical management of acute diarrhea. This statement recommended the use of zinc, as well as a low-osmolarity formulation of ORS as a two-pronged approach to treatment. It is important that the full course of zinc is taken, and that follow-up and behavior-change messages for caregivers are given to ensure full compliance.
In July 2019, thanks to an application from the Diarrhea Innovations Group, the World Health Organization added co-packaged ORS and zinc to its essential medicines list for children (EMLc), harmonizing with diarrhea treatment best practices and creating an enabling environment for greater access, uptake, and affordabilty of both zinc and ORS. Learn more.
Zinc won’t achieve its full potential until it is readily available, particularly in low-income communities where diarrhea burden is highest. PATH has helped countries like Kenya, Cambodia, Vietnam, and India incorporate zinc into their national diarrhea control plans, ensuring easy access through clinics and health volunteers, as well as sustained commitment from ministries of health.
1 Series on Maternal and Child Undernutrition. Lancet. 2008. Available at: http://www.lancet.com/series/maternal-and-child-undernutrition.
2 Bhutta et al. Therapeutic effects of oral zinc in acute and persistent diarrhea in children in developing countries: pooled analysis of randomized controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2000;72(6):1516-22.
3 Fischer Walker CL, Black RE. Zinc for the treatment of diarrhoea: effect on diarrhoea morbidity, mortality and incidence of future episodes. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2010;39(suppl 1):i63-i69.
4 UNICEF and WHO. Diarrhoea: Why Children Are Still Dying and What Can Be Done. New York/Geneva: UNICEF/WHO; 2009.
Photo: PATH/Tony Karumba.