Since 2009, there has been a decrease in the number of cases related to diarrhoea with dehydration. City Health reported that there were 4 161 cases in 2010/11 and 3 447 cases in 2012/13.
The number of fatalities in children under the age of five has also decreased significantly, from 170 deaths in 2009/10 to 74 in 2012/13.
"The decrease in cases of diarrhoea with dehydration was noted across all eight City Health sub-districts in 2012/2013. Off-season cases have also dropped. This suggests that our activities and efforts have been well placed and encourages us to continue. It also bodes well for our goal to reduce diarrhoea-related deaths," said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Health, Councillor Lungiswa James.
Steps to prevent diarrhoea
The City and its partners have devised an all-encompassing plan in recent years to continue reducing the number of people affected by diarrhoea – in particular fatalities among young children. This includes:
- Providing vitamin A supplements to children every six months to prevent diarrhoea
- Giving zinc supplement to children with diarrhoea to reduce the frequency and duration of diarrhoea
- Training clinic staff, particularly in emergency rehydration
- Having well-functioning Oral Rehydration Solution corners in our clinics
- Fast-tracking diarrhoea cases to ensure timeous treatment
- Running all-day awareness and education programmes for the clients attending clinics
- Improving coverage of the Rotavirus vaccine
- Taking public awareness campaigns to clinics and schools
- Training community workers, volunteers, Early Childhood Development staff, and informal food vendors about health and hygiene matters
- Educating traditional healers about the symptoms and dangers of diarrhoea and the administration of the Oral rehydration solution mixture of water, sugar and kitchen salt
- Providing General Practitioners with a standard information package containing the local arrangements to fast-track referrals during diarrhoea season
- Encouraging exclusive breastfeeding, which is one of the most important measures to prevent diarrhoea in young children
- Ensuring that hospitals are on high alert and have a plan should there be an increase in the number of cases requiring admission
The plan also aims to reduce the spread of new diarrhoea cases by minimising the risk of oral-faecal exposure. To this end, Environmental Health Practitioners visit informal settlements on a weekly basis to monitor health hazards.
It has been found that the simple activity of frequent hand-washing with soap is highly effective in preventing diarrhoea as well as the spread of other illnesses and infections and has the potential to save more lives than an expensive vaccine or sophisticated medical intervention.
The squeeze bottle solution
The City of Cape Town has endorsed the "squeeze bottle" which is a low-cost locally designed, easy and portable solution for hand-washing with soap when a tap is not available. This squeeze bottle is gaining popularity and is also making a contribution to waste minimisation (it sees the recycling of empty two-litre bottles).
"The health of our children is a priority and the City and its partners are therefore constantly looking at ways to improve our response the annual diarrhoea outbreak. There is still a long way to go; however, our commitment to this effort is unquestionable and the results speak for themselves," said Councillor James.