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Shobha Devi, a homemaker in the Salkhua village of Saharsa district in Bihar, India, is busy cleaning the house as she has guests coming over. As she sweeps away in her thatch house, her one-year-old daughter, Shrishti, is comfortably perched on her hip.

About a month ago, the mood was quite different in Shobha’s house: she was at her wits’ end about how to stop Shrishti’s diarrhoea. Having tried and failed with all the home remedies the elders recommended, the mother of two finally picked up her mobile phone and called up Sudha Devi, the local Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) and a well-respected figure in the village.

After listening to Shobha, Sudha decided to visit Shobha’s house. There, she found Shrishti suffering from diarrhoea and just beginning to get dehydrated. Immediately, she handed Shobha a few packets of oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc tablets, and started preparing the ORS solution for the child, while explaining to the young mother how to administer the proper dosage.

“I mixed the powder ASHA didi gave me in a jugfull of water and kept feeding Shrishti until she was satisfied,” said Shobha.

“The next day I threw the leftover and made a new jug. The zinc tablet didi gave me, I dissolved in some water and gave that as well to Shrishti,” Shobha said, making a stirring motion with her hand, showing how she dissolved the zinc tablet in the measuring cup. “ASHA didi told me I must give one tablet each day, for 14 days, even if Shrishti’s diarrhoea stopped.”

Shrishti recovered fast. Today, Shobha shares her experiences with other women and advises mothers in her neighborhood about how they, too, can reach out to the local ASHA in time, and manage their children’s diarrhoea simply with zinc and ORS.

ASIDE: Diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of death for children under five years of age throughout the developing world. It lasts for several days and causes severe dehydration. In addition, diarrhoea is the leading cause of malnutrition in children, creating a deadly cycle of diarrhoea illness: diarrhoea is a major cause of malnutrition, and malnourished children are more likely to become ill from diarrhoea.

Using zinc, along with ORS, to treat diarrhoea boosts a child’s immune system, helping her recover from diarrhoea more quickly. It also protects the child against future episodes of diarrhoea, giving the body more recovery time between episodes.

MI’s intervention to strengthen the Childhood Diarrhoea Management Program in Bihar is supported by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.