When people get diarrhoea, they can lose a lot of water and salts from their body very quickly. Babies and young children suffer most. In many cultures, people believe that diarrhoea washes out sickness and that you should not give food or water until the diarrhoea ends. However, unless the lost water and salts are replaced, the child will become seriously ill and could die without treatment.

Sick children or adults can be taken to a clinic or hospital for treatment. However, unless they are very sick, they can be cared for at home using a special drink known as Oral Rehydration Salts. Packets of ORS can be bought and mixed with one litre of safe drinking water. The drink can also be made in the home and is effective as long as the quantities are correct. Add a small pinch or 1/2 level teaspoon of salt and a small handful or eight level teaspoons of sugar to one litre of safe drinking water (measure using a one litre bottle or four cups). Mix them together and give a few sips every five minutes. The drink must never taste saltier than tears. If available, add some fresh lime, lemon or orange juice.

A couple of handfuls of ground rice, maize or millet can be cooked with a litre of water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt added. Cool and use for rehydration in the same way. Remember to keep feeding a child who has diarrhoea, using soft foods.

  • What is our traditional treatment for young children or babies with diarrhoea?
  • How effective is this?
  • Have people seen packets of ORS available in the local clinic or shops? How much do they cost?
  • Have people used ORS or this water, sugar and salt drink to treat either themselves or young children with diarrhoea? How effective was it?
  • Adding too much salt to the recipe can be dangerous for the patient. How can we make sure people do not use too much salt?
  • How could we train people to make this drink and use it? In some places people use songs, posters or rhymes to help people remember the ingredients.
  • Could we develop a simple role-play to share this lesson? Where could we use the role-play?
  • Children are very good at remembering simple health information that they can then share with their parents. How could we teach school children how to make and use ORS safely?