Zinc deficiency is a serious health problem, affecting approximately 30 per cent of the world’s population.

People living in low to middle income countries are at particular risk because of limited access to zinc-rich foods, although excess losses of zinc during diarrhoea is also a factor.

Zinc deficiency is ranked as a leading risk factor in causing diseases, especially diarrhoea and pneumonia in children.

Zinc, combined with oral rehydration salts (ORS), is helping children recover from diarrhoea faster, resist the disease for longer periods and have fewer episodes per year. And it costs less than 50 cents to treat an episode of diarrhoea. Few health care expenditures have such a remarkable return on investment.

At MI, we work with partners around the world to get zinc and oral rehydration salts to those most at risk of diarrhoeal diseases.


  • In 2013, in large part thanks to support from Canada, MI ensured that 10 million episodes of diarrhoea in children were treated.
  • In 2013, MI helped to support the training of 27,000 front line workers in zinc/ORS to treat diarrhoea.

Diarrhoea is the second most common cause of death among children under five worldwide. More than one in ten children under the age of five dies of diarrhoeal disease. That’s nearly 2,100 children every day or 760,000 children every year.
What can turn this problem around? Surprisingly, one of the most abundant elements on earth: zinc. As a metal, it’s commonly used to make brass and batteries. But as a treatment for diarrhoea, zinc reduces diarrhoea duration by 23%.

And when we take a preventative approach, through a combination of vaccination, safe drinking water, basic sanitation, exclusive breastfeed and improved nutrition, we can dramatically reduce diarrhoea and, therefore, zinc deficiency.

But there is still a long way to go, given the enormity of the burden of diarrhoea worldwide. Even where countries have made policy changes to include zinc supplementation, action on the ground is not yet sufficient and at a large enough scale to make a dent in the problem. We still need to get more zinc and ORS to those who need it most.

We are helping to address this problem by:

  • Helping governments establish and manage zinc supply chains.
  • Building local capacity by training government health workers to deliver zinc and ORS, and to record and monitor zinc supplementation programs at local health centres.
  • Partnering with private sector providers and suppliers to complement the public sector.
  • Developing awareness materials and campaigns to encourage families and health workers to use zinc supplements.
  • Offering resources and expertise to add capacity to supervise programs when and where they are needed.
Zinc Alliance for Child Health

The Zinc Alliance for Child Health (ZACH) is a partnership developed in Canada between Teck, MI and the Government of Canada, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD).

There are ZACH projects in Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Burkina Faso and India.

ZACH brings together governments, the private sector and civil society to develop and deliver ongoing zinc treatment programs to help save children´s lives. With this innovated public-private partnership, our goal is to expand zinc supplementation programs globally.

Diarrhoea and Pneumonia Working Group

MI is a member of the Essential Medicines Pneumonia and Diarrhoea Working Group (DPWG) for the UN Commission on Life-saving Commodities. MI chairs the zinc and ORS sub-group while also maintaining a presence on the demand generation and research and evaluation sub-groups.

In 2013, the Zinc Task Force was folded into the DPWG, an impressive alliance of international agencies and academic institutions putting their best minds to work on ways to reduce mortality and morbidity from child diarrhoea and pneumonia by accelerating treatment scale up in 10 high-burden countries, accounting for over 60 per cent of the global burden (MI is working in six of these 10 countries).

The Working Group provides technical assistance, resource mobilization, and monitoring and evaluation support to organizations and governments working in the ten countries, and beyond.

Did you know?