Zinc saves lives of children in riverine communities in Bangladesh

The Akotabazar Community Clinic sits on the banks of the Teesta River in the Rangpur district of Bangladesh. The remote region is prone to flooding and has limited transportation options, making it difficult for frontline health workers to deliver services in the area, where waterborne diseases like diarrhoea are common. But two dedicated health workers are overcoming these challenging conditions to reach as many villagers as possible and reduce preventable childhood diseases and deaths.

Monira Khatun, a community healthcare provider, and Sultan Ahmed, a health assistant, run the clinic. They work tirelessly to address the primary healthcare needs of the residents of Nazirdoho village and the surrounding islands. The most frequent ailment they encounter, especially in children under five, is frequent and severe diarrhoea.

For years, Monira and Sultan treated diarrhoea cases with only oral rehydration salts (ORS), which often proved insufficient. But in 2019, they attended a training session for health workers on diarrhoea management, conducted by Nutrition International through the Zinc Alliance for Child Health (ZACH). There they learned about the important role of zinc in treating diarrhoea, as well as its other benefits, including strengthening immune systems.

Immediately following the training session, Monira and Sultan set out to raise awareness about the importance of zinc amongst the local residents. They conducted courtyard sessions, monthly meetings and one-on-one visits with village leaders. The two health workers were committed to ensuring that community members understood the importance of both ORS and zinc in tackling severe diarrhoeal cases.

Slowly and steadily, these awareness sessions started to generate results.

“We have observed a major change in the health-seeking behaviour of the people,” said Monira. “They themselves now demand zinc tablets along with ORS when they visit community clinics for diarrhoea treatment.”

The decline in cases clearly demonstrates the success of these efforts. From October to December 2018, the Akotabazar clinic reported 21 childhood diarrhoeal cases. From March to May 2019, they treated only seven.

“We feel the awareness about zinc is a major cause behind the significant drop in diarrhoea cases in the community,” said Monira.

The impact of this newly acquired knowledge has brought the community closer to a common goal. Monira and Sultan believe that one day soon, they will be able to declare that theirs is a village where no child dies from diarrhoea.

ZACH is a global partnership between Teck Resources Limited, the Government of Canada and Nutrition International to reach millions of children with zinc and ORS treatments to help save children’s lives in Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya and Bangladesh.