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665 million Indians still defecate in open: UN

By Betwa Sharma
Last updated on: October 15, 2009 13:31 IST

Highlighting that safe disposal of faeces is critical for reducing the number of diarrhoea cases, United Nations on Thursday stressed on the need for hygienic sanitary practices to combat the disease, the second greatest killer of children after Malaria.

A joint study by the World Health organisation and UNICEF 'Diarrhoea: Why Children Are Still Dying and What Can Be Done', also pointed out that India has the largest number of persons that defecate in the open worldwide.

Out of a total of 2.5 billion people worldwide that defecate openly, 665 million belong to India. Some 88 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.

"Improving access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and promoting good hygiene are key components in preventing diarrhoea," the report said noting that one in four persons in the developing world do not use clean toilets.

The problem is further compounded by unsafe disposal of children faeces in developing countries, the study said.

"It is a tragedy that diarrhoea, which is little more than an inconvenience in the developed world, kills an estimated 1.5 million children each year," Ann M Veneman, UNICEF chief said.

The chief further noted, that though inexpensive and effective treatments for diarrhoea exist, in developing countries only 39 per cent of children receive the recommended treatment.

The report also underlines that recent introduction of zinc tablets into treatment programmes in India and Pakistan has helped children fight off diarrhoea more effectively.

Zinc has been associated with a 25 per cent reduction in the duration of acute diarrhoea, as well as a 40 per cent reduction in treatment failure and death in persistent diarrhoea.

It also states that handwashing with soap is the most cost effective intervention for reducing child deaths as it lowers the incidence of diarrhoeal disease by over 40 per cent.

The study also presents a seven-point plan to reduce diarrhoea deaths, which include: replacing body fluids to prevent dehydration, zinc treatments to build immunity, immunisation against rotavirus and measles, improved water supply, sanitation and hand washing with soap.

"We know where children are dying of diarrhoea. We know what must be done to prevent those deaths. We must work with governments and partners to put this seven-point plan into action," Margaret Chan, Head WHO said.

Betwa Sharma in United Nations