Why dialogue on diarrhoea?

‘Oh Stephanie NO, not while we’re eating our dinner!’

This is how the conversation usually goes when my parents make the mistake of asking me how my job is going over a family meal. I have become so used to discussing this subject, I forget that for most people it is perhaps more of an unrefined issue – certainly not a suitable topic of conversation during a meal at least.

But it IS a subject that we need to talk about – in fact we need to ensure lots of people talk about it. Rather than being embarrassed to discuss this over dinner we need to be embarrassed that in the twenty-first century diarrhoea is allowed to prevail as one of the top child killers in the world.

In fact we should be horrified.

Horrified that each year hundreds of thousands of children die from diarrhoea when we know how to prevent it and we know how to treat it. In 2009 UNICEF and the WHO laid this out in a 7-point plan – that brings together both the treatment (rehydration solution, Zinc) and prevention (water, sanitation, hygiene, vaccines and exclusive breastfeeding).

As straightforward as it sounds, to prevent people from getting it and give treatment once they have it, when it comes to policies and – most importantly implementing those policies – it is often challenging. Countries need to coordinate effectively between and within government departments responsible for water, sanitation, hygiene, and health. Dialogue and, most importantly, action is needed to overcome these barriers.

This is why Tearfund and PATH gave their new report the title ‘Diarrhoea Dialogues: from policies to progress’.

The report examines how three high-burden countries are addressing diarrhoea –Mali, Ethiopia and Zambia. It analyses both the opportunities and challenges in diarrhoea control. It concludes with recommendations that the international community need to shout about this issue and catalyse political will to give this issue the priority it deserves. Countries also need to review their policies and improve coordination.

When UNICEF and WHO re-launch their 7-point plan in March 2013, we need to ensure that it doesn’t simply get lost or put on a shelf, but it turns into action.

If we want to see lives saved and this avoidable suffering stopped we need to make a noise about this issue… even if it does make for an uncomfortable dinner time conversation.

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