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Improved formula for oral rehydration salts to save children’s lives


Improved formula means better treatment for life-threatening diarrhoeal dehydration.

23 MARCH 2006 | NEW YORK/GENEVA -- The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF today announced a new formula for the manufacture of Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS). The new formula will better combat acute diarrhoeal disease and advance the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds before 2015.

Diarrhoea is currently the second leading cause of child deaths and kills 1.9 million young children every year, mostly from dehydration.

The latest improved ORS formula contains less glucose and sodium (245 mOsm/l compared with the previous 311 mOsm/l). The lower concentration of the new formula allows for quicker absorption of fluids, reducing the need for intravenous fluids and making it easier to treat children with acute non-cholera diarrhoea without hospitalization.

ORS use is the simplest, most effective and cheapest way to keep children alive during severe episodes of diarrhoea. The ORS solution is absorbed in the small intestine, thus replacing the water and electrolytes lost. WHO provides the only updated international quality specifications for this formula and UNICEF is a leading supplier of ORS to poor countries. WHO and UNICEF have jointly issued guidance for the production of the new ORS.

WHO and UNICEF recommend that countries manufacture and use the new ORS in place of the previous formula. WHO and UNICEF will help national authorities develop manufacturing guidelines and procedures for the new formula. Establishing the local production of ORS will be a key step to ensure countries can meet their own needs in controlling diarrhoeal disease.

According to UNICEF and WHO, oral rehydration therapy should be combined with guidance on appropriate feeding practices. Provision of zinc supplements (20 mg of zinc per day for 10 to 14 days) and continued breastfeeding during acute episodes of diarrhoea protect against dehydration and reduces protein and calorie consumption to have the greatest impact on reducing diarrhoea and malnutrition in children.

The revised monograph for the new ORS formula will be published in the fourth edition of The International Pharmacopoeia. It is also available on the WHO website.

Additional information on diarrhoea can be found on UNICEF’s Facts for Life website and on the WHO Child and Adolescent Health web site

Detailed recommendations concerning the provision and production of ORS are provided in a revised joint WHO/UNICEF publication, ’Oral Rehydration Salts: Production of the New ORS’.


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