LAHORE: Up to 350,000 children die of diarrhea every year before reaching their 5th birthday in five countries, Pakistan being one of them, according to a researcher from Aga Khan University Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta.

At an advocacy workshop for the management of diarrhea with zinc and low osmolarity ORS at a local hotel, Dr Bhutta said on Monday that globally more than 2.5 billion diarrhea cases occurred annually.

Arranged by the Health Department and Pakistan Medical Association in collaboration with the Micronutrient Initiative (MI), the workshop was organised for policy makers of the Health Department, development partners and private medical associations.

“Not a single child dies of diarrhea in any developed country and if any such case happens there, it will lead to major inquiry,” Dr Bhutta said.

He said that diarrhea related death rate had stayed stagnant -- 125,000 per year -- in Pakistan as it had not put concrete and tangible efforts in diarrhea management through improving sanitation, pure water supplies and health and hygiene measures.

He said that ORS and zinc were the main pillars of diarrhea management therapy in the global action plan for pneumonia and diarrhea management.

He said that ORS prevented the occurrence of dehydration and Pakistan had 30 to 40 per cent ORS usage rate in diarrhea. More than 40 studies across the globe indicate that zinc administration of 10 mg per day along with ORS reduces the severity and duration of diarrhea to more than 40 per cent, Dr Bhutta says.

“Pakistan has the policy of using the combination of zinc and LO-ORS as diarrhea management and it is in the curriculum of lady health workers programme, but its implementation is only at five per cent,” he said.

He added that though zinc was on the essential drug list and districts needed to include it in procurement list. Medical practitioners and pharmacists needed to include it in curriculum. Scaling up of it was also needed through GPs and pharmacies and community awareness sessions.

He asked policy makers to make this session the part of their implementation and monitoring strategies.

Punjab and AJK MI Programme Manager Munawar Hussain said the meeting reviewed diarrhea treatment protocols and the evidence on use of Zinc with LO-ORS in effective management of childhood diarrhea. The other objectives included discussing implementation of the plan in Pakistan and its impact, implications for policy: barriers and what needs to be done, especially by government departments, drug regulatory authorities, pharmaceutical industries and medical practitioners.

MI’s Dr Khalid Nawaz informed the participants about the role of the MI in reduction of micronutrient deficiencies in the country through Universal Salt Iodization Programme, Vitamin A supplementation, multi-micronutrient powder and wheat flour fortification with iron and folic acid.

He said that by looking at status of zinc deficiency in the country and its implications on child health, the MI would support the government in addressing the issue for improved child survival rates.

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