Ghana: UN-backed campaign seeks to de-worm 4.5 million children

Ghana: UN-backed campaign seeks to de-worm 4.5 million children

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Some 4.5 million children across Ghana will be de-wormed next week in a United Nations-backed campaign seeking to rid them of the parasites that cause a host of serious health problems, including anaemia, malnutrition and stunted growth, and often prevent them from attending school or being able to concentrate while in class.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is supporting the 12-16 February campaign by the Ghana Education Service and the Ghana Health Service in which children in over 28,000 public schools will be treated for soil-transmitted worms by head teachers and school health teachers who have been trained to administer Mebendazole and teach students about the dangers of worms.

The exercise marks the beginning of an effort to implement two rounds of de-worming every year. The second round will include treatment for schistosomiasis (bilharzia), a type of worm infestation caused by water-transmitted worms.

For girls and boys aged 5 to 14 years in low-income countries, intestinal worms account for an estimated 11 and 12 per cent, respectively, of the total disease burden, and represent the single largest contributor to disease in this group. The three most common soil-transmitted worms affecting children are roundworms, whipworms and hookworms.

In the first two cases, children are infested when they eat unwashed foods grown on soil contaminated by worm eggs. Children are infested with hookworm when they walk barefooted and the larvae on soil burrows into their skin. By robbing children of some of the food they eat and affecting the way food is absorbed, worms take away essential nutrients – especially iron – and contribute to anaemia, malnutrition and stunted growth.

Chronic infestation can lead to long-term retardation of mental and physical development. The most severe worm infestations can lead to death. Good hygiene is essential for prevention. Worm eggs are passed out through the human faeces of infected persons, and grow on soil and in water when faeces are left out in the open.

Using a latrine/toilet, hand washing before eating and after using the latrine/toilet, proper disposal of faeces and washing of all fruits and vegetables in clean water are critical practices to break this cycle of infection.

Research has shown that regular de-worming can substantially increase primary school attendance and significantly improve a child’s ability to learn in school. Treatment is simple and exceptionally cost-effective. Operational research in some developing countries shows that for the first five years of intervention, the average yearly cost is typically less than $0.50 per child in an area where both schistosomiasis and the common soil-transmitted worms are present, and less than $0.25 per child in an area where only the latter are present.