Treatment of diarrhea in young children: results from surveys on the perception and use of oral rehydration solutions, antibiotics, and other therapies in India and Kenya

J Glob Health. 2013 Jun;3(1):010403. doi: 10.7189/jogh.03.010403.


Background: Diarrheal disease is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children under five. Although oral rehydration solution (ORS) has tremendous therapeutic benefits, coverage of and demand for this product have remained low in many developing countries. This study surveyed caregivers and health care providers in India and Kenya to gather information about perceptions and use of various diarrhea treatments, assess reasons for low ORS use, and identify opportunities for expanding ORS use.

Methods: The project team conducted two rounds of semi-structured, quantitative surveys with more than 2000 caregivers in India and Kenya in 2012. A complementary survey covered more than 500 pharmacy staff and health care workers in both countries. In Kenya, the team also surveyed rural pharmacies to gather pricing and sales data.

Results: Although caregivers generally had very positive perceptions of ORS, they typically ranked antibiotics ahead of ORS as the strongest medicine for diarrhea (in India 62% ranked antibiotics first and 23% ranked ORS first, n = 404; in Kenya results were 55% and 29%, n = 401). Many caregivers had misconceptions about the purpose and effectiveness of various treatments. For example, most caregivers who gave ORS at last episode expected it to stop their child's diarrhea (65% in India, n = 190; 73% in Kenya, n = 154). There were noteworthy differences between India and Kenya in the selection and sourcing of treatments. Much of the money spent by families during the last episode of diarrhea was for inappropriate treatments. This was especially true in India, where rural households typically spent US$ 2.29 (median for the 79% of rural households that paid for health care services or treatments, n = 199) with most of this going to pay fees of private health workers and/or for antibiotics.

Conclusions: Caregivers' primary treatment goal is to stop diarrhea, and many believe that antibiotics or ORS will accomplish this goal. Inappropriate treatment - and especially overuse of antibiotics - is common. Satisfaction with ORS is high, but dosing is a challenge for caregivers. The results provide valuable insight into treatment behaviors and suggest significant opportunities to enhance use of ORS in developing countries.