Richard Cash

Richard Cash, senior lecturer on global health

A simple solution that has saved millions

[Fall 2013 Centennial issue]

A solution of table salt, sodium bicarbonate, glucose, and water. This simple elixir, known as oral rehydration solution (ORS), has saved tens of millions of people since the 1970s from death by cholera and other diarrheal diseases—now the second leading cause of infant and child death in the developing world. In a landmark paper published in The Lancet in 1968, Richard Cash, HSPH senior lecturer on global health, and colleagues reported for the first time the results of clinical trials in Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan). They showed that this cheap and readily available solution saved up to 80 percent of intravenous fluid—a scarce and costly commodity—and if begun early in the illness, could eliminate the need for the fluid altogether. A simplified form of ORS—made up of a pinch of salt, a fistful of sugar, and half a liter of clean water—has been taught to millions of mothers to treat children at home. For his elegant research and subsequent work developing programs to teach people how to use ORS, Cash has received numerous awards, including Thailand’s 2006 Prince Mahidol Award and the 2011 James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation Prize for Improving Health.

— Madeline Drexler