Single Pill Can Halt Diarrhea's Deadly Reign

By Drew Nelles,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 9, 2009 2:09 PM CDT
A child suffering from severe diarrhea is treated at a clinic of the International Medical Corps in a displaced people's camp, Monday, Nov. 3, 2008 in Kibati north of Goma in eastern Congo.   (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo)
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(Newser) – 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.