Despite much progress in the understanding of pathogenesis and of management, diarrhoeal illnesses remain one of the most important causes of global childhood mortality and morbidity. Infections account for most illnesses, with pathogens employing ingenious mechanisms to establish disease. In the developed world, an upsurge in immune-mediated gut disorders might have resulted from a disruption of normal bacterial-epithelial cross-talk and impaired maturation of the gut's immune system. Oral rehydration therapies are the mainstay of management of gastroenteritis, and their composition continues to improve. Malnutrition remains the major adverse prognostic indicator for diarrhoea-related mortality, emphasising the importance of nutrition in early management. Drugs are of little use, except for specific indications although new agents that target mechanisms of secretory diarrhoea show promise, as do probiotics. However, preventive strategies on a global scale might ultimately hold the greatest potential to reduce the burden of diarrhoeal disease. These strategies include vaccines and, most importantly, policies to address persisting inequalities between the developed and developing worlds with respect to nutrition, sanitation, and access to safe drinking water.