Every year, more than 1 800 children in South Africa under the age of 5 die as a result of diarrhoea. The cause of death is dehydration, which happens very rapidly in infants and toddlers. These deaths are largely preventable and in almost 95% of infant diarrhoea cases, the child’s body will deal with the infection as long as it remains hydrated.
Knowledge of Rehydrate, once known as Darrow’s fluid, has been around for many years. Most clinics have posters that depict the current method of preparing the salt and sugar solution. For a number of reasons, the high number of deaths related to dehydration indicates that this method remains ineffective.
The method is used universally but as applied in SA, it is not only difficult to do but also dangerous. Women are taught to boil a litre of water in a pot and pour it into the narrow neck of a coke bottle. There are two challenges with this process – the likelihood of burning themselves and the difficulty of pouring 8 teaspoons of sugar through the same narrow, wet bottleneck, followed by a ½ teaspoon of salt. The cooling period required using this method is very lengthy and leaves the child unassisted and agitated.
The demographics of the Eastern Cape, one of the most impoverished areas in South Africa, require an alternative solution. The reality here is that:
• 30% of the women are functionally illiterate. This means they may not be able to count so a formula with percentages or fractions would be a huge challenge. They cannot read the current literature only available in English.
• For many residents a litre of water is a lot to have on hand and may have to be carried a long way
• Fuel for heating is a problem.
• A litre of water takes quite a t
ime to heat and longer to cool.
• The illustration shows a coke bottle but does not identify which size it is; 350ml, 1 Litre, 1.5litresor 2 Litres. They are all the same shape, and the plastic ones collapse when boiling water is poured into them.
• There is the question of what constitutes a teaspoon. In Brazil many women used a tablespoon, making an absolutely lethal concoction. It is very likely that we use the same measure locally.
These are the reasons why the Rotarians of East London have invented the Dehydration Spoon. “One and one into one.” Every household has a cup. If they have the spoon and a little boiled water, salt and sugar they can make the fluid quickly, safely and accurately. They can give the cup to the child or adult to drink from and use the sugar end of the spoon to feed a baby.
The spoons have been well received and have the enthusiastic backing of the WHO representative for the area, Dr. Angela Benson, who is based in Maseru. Dr. Benson has worked throughout Africa and would like the spoons to be made available right through Africa.
“Shelter box”, a Rotary project based in England, sends their strong boxes each filled with enough supplies to shelter and create a home for a family of 10 for six months. They have sufficient boxes packed at any given time to supply 250 000 people. They are sent out in huge military transport planes to places like Myanmar and Bangladesh. Angela Benson wants one of our spoons in each box, because as you know the first thing which is lost in a disaster is potable water. This is a commendable recommendation and one of which the Rotarians in East London are very proud.
The design is patented and the spoons are rolling off the assembly line ready for distribution to needy communities.