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New formula of oral rehydration salts to help millions of children, UN agency says

New formula of oral rehydration salts to help millions of children, UN agency says

A new formula of oral rehydration salts just released by the World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to save the lives of millions suffering from acute diarrhoea and dehydration, a killer which particularly affects children under five.

Oral rehydration therapy has cut childhood deaths from diarrhoea in half over the past 10 years, and governments at this week's special session of the General Assembly devoted to children are expected to endorse a new goal: reducing deaths from diarrhoea a further 50 per cent by 2010. To accomplish that, the use of oral rehydration salts (ORS) must be expanded dramatically.

According to WHO, the use of the new improved formula, which is low in both sodium and glucose, will result in fewer hospitalizations and secondary infections, as well as lower health-care costs. And like its predecessor, it can be administered at home by family members.

"Ideally, all families should have packets of ORS in the home ready to be mixed as soon as it is needed," said Dr. Tomris Turmen, the Executive Director of Family and Community Health at WHO. "Using ORS packets should become routine at the first signs of diarrhoea ... If we can achieve this, the 2010 goals should be well within our reach."

The first dramatic improvement in home management of diarrhoea through ORS took place between 1990 and 1995, saving about 1 million children annually. In 1990, oral rehydration salts were used in around one third of diarrhoea cases. By mid-decade, the average was 85 per cent among 33 reporting countries which account for almost half of the world's under-five population.

Use of the new formula will begin later this year in India, the UN agency said.