Written by Ijeoma UKAZU

Leveraging on school feeding program to eradicate intestinal worms

Soil Transmitted Helminthiasis, STH also known as (intestinal worms) is a worm infestation which is caused by infection with a group of intestinal nematode worms, with most important species reported in Sub-Saharan Africa like the hookworms (both Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus), the roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides) and whipworm (Trichuris trichura.)

According to WHO, approximately 1.5 billion people are infected with soil-transmitted helminths worldwide with infections widely distributed in tropical and sub-tropical areas, the greatest number occurring in Africa.

The global health body also said that, this infection is generally most prevalent among rural communities in warm and humid equatorial regions, and where sanitation facilities are inadequate. However, infection can also occur in urban areas.

Health watchers say, soil-transmitted helminths in children under the age of five inhibits growth and prevents children from fulfilling their full potential in life.

An expert, Dr. Obiageli Nebe suggests due to the economic situation of the country, to effectively eradicate intestinal worms in children, government at all levels should leverage on the national home grown school feeding program which aims to deliver a government-led, cost-effective school feeding programme using food that is locally grown by smallholder farmer.

Nebe, who is a Deputy Director and Programme Manager, National Deworming Programme at the Federal Ministry of Health, FMOH, said leveraging on the school feeding program can deliver effective deworming of school children across states.

She pointed, "as we know, Nigeria economy situation is biting hard on families and children have to take this deworming drug that requires adequate feeding. During some of the deworming activity we carried out, some children after taking the drug without sufficient solid food, they feel faint. The drug is not what you give to children without adequate food intake

"There's already malnutrition everywhere in the country people are not feeding very well. Now we are asking the children to feed very well in order to take these drugs. This situation is impacting on the program because, when you give children the deworming tablet on an empty stomach, you see them reacting seriously.

"Once there's this serious reaction, there will be rejection of the medicine and we also end up taking those children to the hospital to be properly managed. So, the impact of malnutrition is equally affecting the program because people need to be well fed though, we emphasize on the aspect that, people should eat solid food before taking the drug."

Nebe also pointed that, during the deworming exercise, it was observed that, children in private schools come along with food to school while those in public schools who mostly are from poor homes do not.

She lamented that with children's fainting and reaction to the drugs, there is rejection of the tablets, saying out of the 40 million children targeted for the National Deworming Programme across the federation, the FMOH has reached less than 20 million, representing less than 50 percent of the national target.

Nebe called on parents and guardians to accept deworming tablets, saying they were not only free, they are quality medicines donated by pharmaceutical companies in western developed countries.

She said, for proper acceptance of the drug, the program also initiated health education to convince parents during Parents Teachers Association, PTA, as well as advise the community leaders on its importance.

Nebe made this known during a two day media dialogue on Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTDs, Control in Nigeria, which held in Ibadan recently, organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau, CRIB of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with UNICEF, Nebe added that, "we need the intervention of the federal government to make sure that the school feeding program which is part of the federal government social investment program is extended to all the classes in order to achieve effective deworming of school age children."

So far, according to her, the program ought to have reached a bench mark of 75 percent of schools by 2020, "but up till now, we have not been able to reach that bench mark. It is a challenge as there are lots of gap especially with funding and poor sanitary environment both in the rural and urban areas of the country.

On the impact of Covid-19 on the program, Nebe added that it came as a surprise to everyone, "now, there is a new normal occasioned with covid-19 precautionary measures of wearing of masks and the use of sanitizers. These are some of the issues. But if we do not hasten up things, we may stand the risk of the drugs expiring".


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