Thursday, July 28, 2011

Simple is best

Dhaka is surrounded by water, but it is so polluted that very little of it is drinkable. That, plus the very poor sanitation across the city, means that the people of the Bangladeshi capital not only have to scramble daily for clean water supplies but are also regularly in danger of the silent killer that is cholera. Dhaka has two cholera outbreaks each year: roughly, one before and one after the monsoon. Left untreated, cholera can kill in hours and it spreads quickly, which is why it so terrifies people.You can start being ill at ten the morning and be dead by two in the afternoon.

If you don't like hospitals then you would hate Dhaka Hospital during one of the Bangladeshi capital's regular cholera epidemics. The emergency ward was seething with men, women and children, many of them severely dehydrated and fighting for life. Patients moaned as nurses connected them with intravenous needles to bags of saline. Hospital orderlies pushed away trolleys piled with buckets of diarrhoea and vomit. And all the while more patients arrived, by wheelchair or stretcher, or half-carried by fretful relatives, until they spilled out into makeshift wards set up in the parking lot. It looked like pandemonium, but it wasn't. The Cholera Hospital, as locals call it, is efficient and deceptively high-tech. Look closely, and you will see that medical staff track each patient with handheld computers. And it is unrivalled at treating large numbers of patients with potentially fatal diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera.

"If you arrive alive at our hospital," its director Mark Pietroni told us, "then you leave alive." Patients who were stretchered into Dhaka Hospital were walking out within 24 hours.

Oral rehydration solution (ORS), a simple mixture of salt, sugar and water, is used to treat cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases. ORS is thought to have saved more than 50 million lives. ORS is the primary weapon in Dhaka Hospital's fight against cholera.

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