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Diarrhea: No Laughing Matter

by Jamil Williams on February 21, 2014

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My name is Jamil Williams and I am a sophomore at Boston University studying Health Science/Pre-med.  When asked to write about a global public health topic, my mind immediately went to diarrheal diseases.  After visiting Uganda in high school, I was able to see first hand the effects that diarrheal diseases and unsafe drinking water can have on a population.  I hope to raise more awareness on this topic so that we can work to make changes for the future.

Diarrhea and diarrheal diseases may spark chuckles and giggles when talked about among most Americans, but if you are a child in Tanzania or Haiti, this topic is nothing to laugh at.  Diarrhea is described as having three or more loose or liquid bowel movements in a day.  This gives the body a loss of essential fluids and nutrients, which leads to dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, and salt imbalances.  Diarrhea is usually a sign of an infection in the intestinal tract, caused by bacterial, viral, and parasitic organisms. This, coupled with its occurrence in countries with already deprived diets, leads to a recipe for disaster.Diarrhea and diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death among children under 5 years old in the world, according to the World Health Organization.  Globally there are more than 1.7 billion cases of diarrheal disease every year, killing about 760,000 children less than 5 years old every year. It is the leading cause of malnutrition among children under 5 years old and the worst part about this tragic condition is how easily preventable it is.

The main way to prevent diarrhea is safe drinking water.  This, in my opinion, is an extremely preventable disease for this reason.  America has laws, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, in order to ensure that our water is safe to drink.  This is obviously not possible for countries with limited access to finances but I believe that with the help of the World Health Organization and the United Nations, wealthier nations could help these countries develop better systems for clean water.  In many nations, much of the population drinks from water contaminated with human as well as animal feces.  This water is used to drink, cook, as well as bathe and is the cause of many diseases such as E. Coli and Cholera.  Imagine the entire population of the City of Los Angeles dying in one year; this is the equivalent to the amount of people that die every year due to lack of access to clean water.  This is an extremely pressing issue worldwide and, with proper legislation, can be for the most part eradicated.

Another way to prevent diarrhea is through hand washing and personal hygiene.  Hand to hand contact spreads these viral and bacterial agents, thus spreading the diarrheal disease among the population.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the World Health Organization have made significant strides to spread awareness about things like personal hygiene and hand washing.  Diarrhea is a deadly but preventable condition that is plaguing children of nations across the world.  With proper resources and finances, we can work to get many developing nations clean water and help to eradicate diarrheal diseases.

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