Every year between the beginning of November and the end of May thousands of babies and toddlers across the province access Western Cape Government Health facilities seeking treatment for dehydration due to diarrhoea.
Western Cape Minister of Health, Theuns Botha, says: “In health terms the diarrhoea season ends in May. During this time we must be very conscious of hygiene and cleanliness and protect our very young children from dehydration. Death as a result of diarrhoea and dehydration is totally preventable by taking some basic precautions. By making up a simple solution of one litre of water, eight teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt, and giving it to your baby, toddler or any other member of your family, little sips at a time, as often as possible, you can save a life.”
If your child suffers from diarrhoea or has a runny tummy, vomits or refuses to breastfeed, then a sugar-salt solution (SSS) is recommended. However, should the signs persist the child must be taken to the nearest clinic immediately. Do not wait in the queue to be seen – please report to reception immediately.
Summer has, for many mothers and caregivers, become synonymous with runny tummies, unhappy toddlers and fear of death due to dehydration. Summer is Diarrhoeal Season.
Western Cape Government Health will embark on an ongoing campaign for the duration of the season that is focused on prevention, hygiene, oral rehydration and danger signs. Health staff are committed to educating our citizens about the dangers of diarrhoea in children under five years and infants, who are especially vulnerable.
As from November through to the end of May, with most cases presenting during January, February and into March, staff at all our facilities are particularly vigilant of parents and caregivers presenting with children and infants that are suffering from diarrhoea.
However, there are many ways in which we can prevent infection in our children and babies. Diarrhoea is highly infectious and is more likely to infect and affect children and adults when hygiene is ignored.
Wash your hands: This is the first step to avoiding all kinds of illnesses. It is vital to wash your hands in between activities. In other words, if you have changed baby’s nappy and are now going to feed, you must wash your hands first. Even if your home does not have running water, keep a plastic cool drink bottle filled with water handy, so that you can rinse your hand with clean water after washing them.
Keep play and eating areas clean: Keeping the area clean where children play, sleep and eat is of utmost importance. Although this sounds easy, it is important to remember that one should wash feeding bottles and dummies in hot, soapy water – remember to rinse well. Babies and toddlers love to put all kinds of things into their mouths, therefore their “chew” toys should be kept separate to other toys and must be rinsed regularly. Whatever you do, do not ‘share’ toys between babies as this is a quick way to spread germs of any kind, but especially diarrhoea.
Keep the area around your home spotless: Do not let garbage and other food-related rubbish lie around, as these attract flies which can cause illness. Other things that cause illness are dirty water, broken toilets, rubbish and contaminated food. Do not allow children to play in puddles of dirty water or furrows of drainage water. Always remove animal waste and throw it away.
Western Cape Government Health has a multisectorial team which meets weekly during the diarrhoea season. This team drives activities including training staff in effective clinical methods. They also check water quality, toilets and general sanitation. They focus on areas where cases of diarrhoea occur and conduct outreach activities going from house to house to manage the problem. This co-ordinated approach has seen a significant drop in the number of diarrhoea deaths over the past few years.
All Western Cape Government Health facilities have Oral Rehydration Treatment (ORT) corners or rooms. Mothers and caregivers are urged to visit these areas for information about the prevention and treatment of diarrhoea, and also how to make and use the sugar-salt solution (SSS) when their children show early signs of diarrhoea.
Together, we can reach our goal of Zero Diarrhoeal Deaths.
Principal Communications Officer: District Health Services and Programmes
Western Cape Government Health
Tel: 021 483 2904