Diarrhea kills 1.6 million children under 5 every year—more than AIDS or malaria—and gets a fraction of the funding. But a deceptively simple new treatment may mark a breakthrough, Time reports. Zinc supplements appear to dramatically decrease diarrhea-related deaths—one afflicted village in Mali hasn’t had a single death since the pills arrived. Zinc “has totally taken off,” a researcher says. “It looks like real medicine and is not given out for free.”
The entire treatment costs less than 30 cents, and a single dose lasts an entire season. It’s still not clear how exactly zinc fights diarrhea; the researcher suggests that zinc boosts the immune system, helping the body fight off diarrhea’s worst effects. Still, the people in charge are paying attention: several African governments have started zinc programs, and some 20 companies worldwide are manufacturing the pills.