How to save the lives of 20,000 malnourished children each day.

Despite what most people think, the 14 million Third World children who die of malnutrition each year do not succumb simply to lack of food. The complications of a weakened body are many. What actually kills more children than anything else—fully 5 million a year—is dehydration brought on by diarrheal infection. It’s a common ailment in the large areas of the world lacking proper sanitation and personal hygiene. The fact that primitive wisdom calls for withholding food and water from those suffering diarrhea only compounds the problem.

The health hazards of bodily dehydration are far from being solved. But, thanks in part to a discovery that a leading British medical journal has called “potentially the most important medical advance of the century,” the prospect of greatly limiting death caused by diarrhea is no longer an impossible dream. The discovery is oral rehydration therapy (ORT), a process that not only replaces salt and water in children (and adults) who are fighting diarrhea, but actually helps to cure the victim. The “therapy” consists of drinking a very simple solution of water, sugar, and salt. The ultimate cure for diarrhea lies in modernized sanitation systems and improved personal hygiene. But until that goal can be reached, experts believe ORT will definitely limit deaths and alleviate suffering.

Although the benefits of ORT have been known for more than a decade, the idea of putting it to work has only recently gained momentum, according to Roger Goodal of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). UNICEF said in its annual “State of the World’s Children” report in December that ORT was the key element in a plan that could save the lives of ...

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