India has the highest number of child deaths, under the age of 5 Years.
If basic hygiene practices were followed,nearly all could have been prevented. But since sanitation facilities are lacking in many parts of the country, scientists are looking at alternative ways to combat diseases in children - including the use of an intestinal bacteria to prevent diarrhoea.
Sanitation is a big challenge in slum clusters and rural areas of India. During the monsoons, drinking water gets contaminated causing a host of diseases.
About 5,000 children die in India every day from diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia. Most deaths occur in children, less than a year old. Over 90% of these deaths could have been prevented with proper sanitation, but slum clusters are rarely connected to the city's sanitation infrastructure.
Scientists are now looking at other ways to boost the immunity of children. A recent study found that good bacteria can help prevent diarrhoea.
A trial was conducted among nearly 4,000 children living in slums to understand the health benefits of probiotics or good bacteria.In 3 months, diarrhoeal episodes fell by 14% in children who were given a daily dose of probiotics.
Professor NK Ganguly, former Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research said: "The hygienic condition in slums is not that good. So if it works in those unhygienic conditions,... it gives a good signal that probiotics, even in a not so ideal condition, will work."
The probiotic drink - Yakult - contains billions of live microorganisms similar to the beneficial bacteria found naturally in human intestines.The study found that it helped to control stomach infections in children less than 5 years of age.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that go into your intestine and suppress the growth of harmful bacteria says Shefali Sapra, senior GM of Yakult Danone.
"Similarly Yakult has lactobacillus bacteria strain Shirota that goes into your intestine... and suppresses the growth of harmful bacteria, helps to build immunity and also improve your digestion."
Past studies have shown that children usually have 3-4 episodes of diarrhoea per year.
In slum settings, that number goes up by about three times.
Diarrhoea kills more children in India than any other disease. It is caused by stale food and polluted water.
While the most effective prevention is to focus on hygiene practices, interventions such as probiotics can also go a long way in bringing down the mortality rate of children under 5 years of age.
By Damanjeet Kohli
9 October 2010