Oral rehydration salts (ORS) found to save lives: underutilization in India examined.

A groundbreaking study suggests that Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS), an economical and efficient remedy for diarrhoea, could save the lives of approximately half a million children annually. Despite the global toll of 500,000 deaths in children under five due to diarrhoea, ORS remains underprescribed, particularly in India, where it is a leading cause of child mortality.

India bears the highest burden of child diarrhoea worldwide, emphasizing the urgent need for widespread adoption of ORS. A small, water-soluble packet, ORS offers a cost-effective solution to combat diarrhoeal diseases. However, the study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) reveals that 50% of children with diarrhoea in India do not receive ORS.

To unravel the reasons behind this underprescription, the researchers surveyed over 2,000 healthcare providers in more than 200 towns across Bihar and Karnataka. The findings, published in the journal Science, expose a crucial misperception among providers – the belief that patients do not desire ORS. This perception accounts for a significant 42% of underprescription, overshadowing factors such as stock shortages (6%) and financial incentives (5%).

Neeraj Sood, from the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics and a professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy, highlighted the paradox that even when seeking healthcare, children with diarrhoea often do not receive the life-saving ORS, which is a cost-effective intervention recommended by the World Health Organisation for decades.

Manoj Mohanan, Professor of public policy, economics, and global health at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, underscored the persistent challenge of altering provider behavior regarding ORS prescription. The study, encompassing states with diverse socioeconomic demographics like Bihar and Karnataka, indicates that patient preferences for ORS play a pivotal role in increasing prescription rates, surpassing the impact of addressing stock shortages or financial incentives.

Addressing this underutilization of ORS in India becomes crucial, offering a potential avenue to significantly reduce child mortality associated with diarrhoea through a simple and cost-effective intervention.