Saving the Lives of Children in Senegal

December 08, 2015

N’Goné Sine is sitting with her neighbours in the village of N’Gomène Keur Atou in the Senegalese district of Thiès. She’s trying to get some sewing finished but her work is constantly interrupted. Within the span of 20 minutes, three women come to see her with their sick children. All of these children are suffering from diarrhea.

And these children are not alone. Globally, diarrhea is the second leading cause of death of children under the age of five. Each year, nearly 600,000 children die from this preventable condition, a known complication associated with zinc deficiency.

To address this global health challenge, Teck launched our Zinc & Health program in 2011 to raise awareness about zinc deficiency and partner with international organizations to help get zinc to those who need it most. Teck is also a founding member of the Zinc Alliance for Child Health (ZACH), a public-private-civil society alliance with the Government of Canada, UNICEF and the Micronutrient Initiative, created to develop and sustain zinc treatment programs that will help save children’s lives.

With the hope of providing faster, easier treatments, ZACH has implemented a pilot project in Thiès, training DS- DOMs to treat diarrhea in children in their communities. DS-DOMs are local men and women originally trained by Senegal’s Ministry of Health to treat malaria, and are credited as major contributors to the reduction in malarial deaths in Senegal over the past few years.

If successful, the ZACH pilot program will be scaled up across the country. And judging by this one 20-minute span with DS-DOM N’Goné, it’s a big success.

At a community meeting in 2012, 20-year-old N’Goné was chosen by her neighbours to train to be the village’s DS-DOM. N’Goné’s first patient on this busy morning is six-month-old Mouhamed Toué. His mum, Sohkna, is worried because he keeps getting sick. On the advice of her family members, Sohkna had been treating her son’s diarrhea with monkey-bread and fruit juice. He would recover for a few days or weeks but the diarrhea would eventually return. Sohkna’s neighbour urged her to see N’Goné instead, who immediately advised treating the diarrhea with zinc and oral rehydration salts (ORS).

Using zinc, along with ORS, to treat diarrhea not only helps children recover from diarrhea faster, it also helps to stop the diarrhea from returning as often. A 10-14 day treatment of zinc tablets and ORS costs less than 50 cents. In keeping with the Senegalese policy that all treatments received through the DS-DOMs are free, the zinc is provided to Sohkna at no cost.

Happy that she has a new way of treating Mouhamed, Sohkna sets off for home. N’Goné will visit her in the coming days to check on them both. She also asks Sohkna to let her friends and neighbours know that a more effective treatment for diarrhea is available.

This DS-DOM pilot project in Senegal is just one part of the larger ZACH initiative, which is accelerating the use and awareness of zinc in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, India and Kenya. Since 2011, ZACH has provided life-saving zinc and ORS treatments to 22 million children and trained 50,000 community health workers to help improve child health.

To learn more about Teck’s Zinc & Health program, please visit Zinc & Health.

First Published on December 08, 2015