Diarrhoea is a common condition most especially in children who are under five. It is said to be the second most dangerous killer disease among this age group with an estimation of 801,000 children younger than five perishing from diarrhea each year, mostly in developing countries, according to World Health Organisation. This amounts to 11 per cent of the 7.6 million deaths of children under the age of five, and about 2,200 children are dying every day as a result of diarrhoea.
Dr Daniel Gahungu, a general practitioner at Polyclinic de l’Etoile, Kigali, says diarrhoea is having loose or watery bowel movement that occurs more than four times per day.
He says diarrhaea comes in three types – short duration watery diarrhaea, short duration bloody diarrhaea, and if it lasts for more than two weeks, it becomes persistent diarrhaea. Another way of classifying is by osmotic diarrhea, where if a person drinks solutions with excessive sugar or excessive salt, these can draw water from the body into the bowel and cause diarrhea.
Dr Barbara Mukamabano, a pediatrician at Doctor Kanimba Hospital, says this condition is commonly caused by an infection of the intestines due to a virus, bacteria or parasite which are often acquired through poor hygiene of a child.
“A child who touches or eats whatever they find, plays with dirty items or eats cold food is more likely to get diarrhoea. It can also occur due to the side effects of viruses from cough and flu, for instance, when a child swallows the mucus or phlegm, which carry infections to the stomach.
“Some diseases like malaria can also cause diarrhoea in children and adults alike,” she says.
Mukamabano adds that children should also stay away from chocolates, fried foods, too much fiber-rich foods to avoid the condition.
“Take an example of a baby who wakes up and is given chocolate, milk, cheese, and after a while chips. When all this stuff gets into the stomach, it has no energy to crush all of it at once and expel it normally, thus diarrhoea or sometimes vomiting occurs. So, much as the body needs oils and sugar to remain strong, a child should be given these foods in small, regulated amounts,” she says.
Diarrhoea causes a child to lose appetite, get fallen eyebrows and lose weight. Sometimes it comes along with fever and vomiting, according to Mukamabano.
“Extreme thirst due to lack of water in the body can result into a child collapsing. When a child with diarrhea delays to get medical attention, sometimes this extreme dehydration can cause seizures, brain damage and even death,” she says.
Gahungu says good sanitation and hygiene practices are the first steps in averting the spread of diarrhoea-causing bacteria.
“A child in a clean environment almost has a zero per cent chance of contracting diarrhoea. Plus, if your child has a well-planned deit, uses clean items, plays in a dirt-free place and eats on time, they cannot suffer from diarrhea,” he says.
“If it is a result of other infections like malaria, they should be treated immediately,” he adds.
Medics say treatment may differ depending on the cause. But the first intervention even before going to the hospital is to give them water mixed with sugar and salt to prevent dehydration and restore the lost sugar and salts in the body.
“However, the child should be taken to a health centre to get better treatment. It is advisable for a child with such a problem to take porridge and carrot water. They should leave out milk or anything with too much oil,” Gahungu says.
Dr Mukamabano advises parents to always give children a lot to drink.
“Children also need great care, most especially during the hot season, since diarrhoea tend to be acute in such periods. Parents should also take the trouble to know their children better and learn about proper feeding habits for their children. They should also ensure that children are raised in a clean environment,” she says.
For breastfeeding women, she says it is important to always first clean their breasts with a clean towel or cloth and warm water before breastfeeding.