In their 2019 Annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates wrote that they got their impetus for starting their foundation from a news story about hundreds of thousands of kids in poor countries dying from diarrhoea. Diarrhoea, you say?
Sure, it is uncomfortable and draining but is it really such a big problem? Unfortunately, it is. In fact, it accounts for 9% of deaths of children under-five, in India. Diarrhoea in children is caused by viral illnesses, notably rotavirus which accounts for 45% of diarrhoea cases. It causes children to lose fluids, causing dehydration rapidly and putting their lives at risk.
The good news is that in this century, the world has made steady progress in reducing its diarrhoea burden. From 2000 to 2016, global diarrhoea deaths of children under-5 reduced by 61% from 1.237 million to 477,000.
The same figure for India has reduced by 70% from 340,000 to 102,000. Bangladesh has performed significantly better than most countries, including India, in fighting diarrhoea. From 2000 to 2016, Bangladesh has reduced under-five diarrhoeal deaths from 38,877 to 7,062 (81.8%). This is particularly commendable when you consider that its per capita income is significantly lower than India as shown in the chart.
So, what did Bangladesh do to control diarrhoea? Few elements stand out:
The writer is the CEO, Antara Foundation. He has worked in management consulting with Arthur D Little and KPMG.