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A training session for frontline health workers is underway in Shivpuri, a quiet village in the Kishanpur block of Supaul district in Bihar, India.

Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) ― government appointed community health workers ― from nearby villages have gathered for a week-long training session being organized by the State Health Society (Government of Bihar).

MI, a key development partner in the state, has planned a session on Childhood Diarrhoea Management. Before the session, some women gather around and begin sharing experiences.

Anita Kumari, a resident of Shivpuri, lives with her husband and two children: a five-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy, Yashwant. Anita has been an ASHA for well over four years now. She describes to the group her recent experience with the deadly diarrhoea, when Yashwant took ill with the disease. As she is telling her story, Anita relives the anxiety that gripped her as his condition worsened.

With her training as an ASHA, she recognized the symptoms of diarrhoea and started treating Yashwant with zinc and Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS).

A common disease in children under five in India, diarrhoea is often neglected by caregivers until too late. Using zinc, along with ORS, to treat it decreases the duration and severity of diarrhoea, as well as the chances of having diarrhoea again in the next few months.

Since 2009, MI has been working in Bihar to ensure, through various public health interventions, that more children with diarrhoea are being properly treated with zinc and ORS.

Anita says that starting Yashwant on zinc and ORS allowed her to stabilize his dehydration, while she hurried him to the nearby health facility for a doctor’s opinion.

She pauses as her eyes glaze over and she relives the horror. Unable to fight back tears, she breaks down. Wiping away her tears with her light pink and blue sari (the ASHA uniform) she said, “I can’t explain to you my helplessness, as if all would simply end for me if anything happened to my child. We stayed awake the whole night. I never stopped giving him ORS. It helped to restore fluids in his body.”

In the late hours of the night, as the child showed signs of recovery, Anita remembers feeling relieved. Proper care and treatment with zinc and ORS over the next few days helped Yashwant recover completely.

Anita is now an even bigger champion for using zinc and ORS to treat childhood diarrhoea. She says both her training and personal experience have given her evidence of the potent combination formed by zinc and ORS.

“Zinc and ORS saved my child’s life,” she said.