NGO the Micronutrient Initiative has been working in the country since 2010 to boost zinc usage along with oral rehydration salts (ORS) – two techniques that have proven effective in the treatment of diarrhoea among infants.
“We can do more here and we should,” said Macha Raja Maharjan, director of the Micronutrient Initiative (MI) in Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital.
MI’s work involves supplying zinc tablets to health care workers free of charge, or demonstrating how they can be purchased.
Nepalese Ministry of Health estimates 15,000 of 54,000 children who die from preventable disease, die from diarrhoea, second only to pneumonia. It is estimated one if two Nepalese children under the age of five are undernourished.
Studies indicate zinc and ORS treatments can lead to 25 per cent reduction in subsequent episodes of diarrhoea and a 34 percent reduction in subsequent episodes of pneumonia in the 2-3 months after a 10-14 day treatment.
According to a 2009 Food and Nutrition Bulletin, zinc supplementation can reduce child mortality by around six percent, according to Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN).
But problems remained such as inadequate supply of zinc tablets; weak logistical management; low awareness regarding zinc and its availability within the community; and inadequate understanding of the treatment among health service providers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has backed the use of zinc supplements as one means to tackle infant diarrhoea, and, along with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), produced a document on the problem in 2004.
In said, “newly formulated oral rehydration salts (ORS) containing lower concentrations of glucose and salt, and success in using zinc supplementation … can drastically reduce the number of child deaths.”
In 2002, it was estimated 1.5 million under-5s die each year in the developing world due to acute diarrhoea, although the figure was three times that in 1979.
The two bodies said caregivers and health professionals should provide infants with 20mg a day of zinc for 10-14 days; or 10mg per day for infants under six months old.