This summer, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Haiti, a developing country unlike our own. As the specific mission on the trip was to aid vulnerable working mothers and children in areas of extreme poverty, we were able to experience and fully grasp the reality these people face, only hours away from the American shore. The families and communities we encountered not only faced socio-economic barriers and governmental failures, but they also had to survive without running water and electricity, living without the basic elements, regular people, like me, often take for granted. However, the most appalling aspect was that so many families and children were suffering because they could not access proper care to common diseases that are easily preventable in developed countries.
So, what exactly are the forgotten killers? Common diseases such as Diarrhea kills more kids than AIDS, Malaria, and Measles combined (1). Preventing Diarrheal disease was our sole mission on our trip, and I had the opportunity to learn firsthand of the detrimental impacts it had on local communities in countries such as Haiti.
Diarrhea is defined as the passage of three or more loose or liquid stools per day (or more frequent passage than is normal for the individual) (2). Diarrhea kills up to 1 out of 9 kids who have it and the death rate becomes 11 times more likely for kids who have immune disorders such as HIV (1). Diarrheal deaths were originally often caused by major dehydration and loss of salts but bacterial infections and viruses such as the rotavirus are causing an increase in deaths. The rotavirus is the leading cause of acute diarrhea and causes up to 40% of hospitalizations in kids under 5 (1). Diarrhea is spread by a constant cycle of the stool contaminating water sources and vegetation, without proper sanitation in baby defecation, and without proper handwashing. About 88% of diarrheal deaths are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and insufficient hygiene (1).
There have been countless proactive resolutions created to combat this disease. Organizations such as the one we worked with, Dributts, offered aid by focusing on giving access to hygiene and sanitation by creating a diaper to prevent Diarrheal disease. The diapers they created were made to withstand a working environment where there might not be running water or electricity to control waste by giving a cloth diaper that can be reused and is more absorbable than a regular diaper. Their specific model is important because it is focused on the areas that don’t have preventable measures to control the flow of waste to stop the spread of disease. Organizations like Dributts are an incremental piece in ending the cycle of poor hygiene access to prevent diarrheal disease in younger children.
Global initiatives from organizations such as UNICEF, focus on measures such as rehydration salts and Zinc supplements to treat Diarrhea but put a larger implementation on prevention methods. By focusing on access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation, and hand washing, breastfeeding in the first six months, good food and personal hygiene, education, and the rotavirus vaccination have been depleting the growth of diarrhea in communities around the world.
As a student, it may feel like it’s impossible to make a difference but it’s easier than one may think. Donate to organizations like Dributts, educate, encourage your neighbors and communities to get involved in nonprofits, and most importantly start with you. Never stop expecting more and try to bring change by yourself. It is not impossible.
As there are so many prevalent issues in developing countries, the access to funding for a more common disease such as Diarrhea often gets put into the background. The amount of funding going into intervention processes does not represent the large population it actually affects. Soon, countries are going to have to acknowledge the leading killers that we often forget as it makes its’ name one to remember. It is our responsibility as Americans, families, and humans to make sure the privileges endowed upon us are also given to those all over the world, not just people like us.