Diarrheal diseases are the second leading cause of death among post-neonatal children under the age of five. Oral rehydration solution (ORS)—a solution made from a 1:1 molar ratio of salt and sugar—has been hailed as “potentially the most important medical advance of the 20th century” for its remarkable ability to combat the life-threatening dehydration associated with diarrheal disease. Despite its effectiveness, only 2 out of every 5 children with diarrhea receive ORS, and ORS coverage is lowest in regions where the risk posed by diarrheal diseases is the greatest. Underutilization of this life-saving treatment arises both from the fact that pre-measured packets of ORS solutes are not reliably distributed in developing regions as well as the fact that existing homemade ORS recipes such as mixing a three-finger pinch of salt and a fistful of sugar in a liter of water lack the precision and perception of medical legitimacy to be a trusted method of ORS preparation.
The ORTube is a tool that is specially designed to improve upon methods of homemade ORS preparation by allowing individuals to measure the exact amounts of salt and sugar that are needed to prepare safe and effective ORS with the resources available in their own communities. By equipping individuals with a specialized tool to help prepare the best alternative to an ORS packet, the ORTube has the potential to add legitimacy to homemade ORS and to increase ORS usage rates at a community level. This project aims to measure the long-term integration of the ORTube into rural villages in Uganda as a first-line of defense against diarrheal dehydration. In August 2019, the nonprofits ORTube and Omni Med collaborated to distribute of several hundred ORTubes among community health workers within the Mukono District of Uganda. In May 2020, our research team will travel to Uganda to collect data on whether individuals who were given the ORTube chose to use it to prepare ORS, and, if they did, whether they used the ORTube correctly and in the appropriate situations.
While much of this project is still in front of me, I have already learned so much through the process of planning an international research study of this scale. Communication has been key as I have had to make sure our collaborators halfway around the world are all on the same page with what we are envisioning. Furthermore, our team has had to take every precaution to ensure that the ORTube is deployed in the safest way possible to ensure no unexpected and potentially life-threatening outcomes occur. Our team has consulted multiple global health experts and has utilized their input and expertise to shape our study. Overall, this research experience has been an amazing opportunity to expand my education outside of the walls of the classroom into situations that have the potential to make a lasting positive impact on the world. I am extremely thankful for the guidance of my mentors throughout this process and for the CURF and CHAS funding that has made this research possible.