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Joint effort gets worms on the run in schools

Joint effort gets worms on the run in schools

Six years ahead of schedule Cambodia has become the first country to reach the UN's

2010 goal of treating three-quarters of its school-age children for intestinal parasites.

Thousands of teachers in 6,500 schools gave anti-parasite pills to their students

in a campaign coordinated by the Cambodian Ministry of Health, Education and Sport,

supported by the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF),

the Japanese Embassy in Cambodia and the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation.

More than 75 per cent of the nearly three million children of school age were treated,

whereas five years ago some 70 per cent of the children suffered from intestinal

worms and demonstrated the negative impact on short-term and long-term memory, reasoning

and reading comprehension, according to WHO.

"Cambodia's experience provides hard evidence that it is completely within the

realm of possibility to protect the vast majority of children against parasites.

Cambodia has done it and so can other countries," said Dr Lorenzo Savioli, WHO's

coordinator of parasitic diseases control.

WHO regional adviser Dr Kevin Palmer said: "Reaching the target this early wasn't

accidental.

"It demonstrates what can be achieved when the political will is there, together

with financial support from donors and partners."

The project began in December 2002, after a nationwide survey revealed that in some

provinces, up to 85 percent of school-age children were infected with worms.

According to Dr Robert Wakuluk, a researcher with the Cambodian Red Cross: "These

kids cannot grow, they cannot develop properly, they are stunted.

"Their school performance will be much lower because they can't concentrate.

"Sometimes they can't eat, they itch and they cannot sleep."

The most prevalent infections are soil-transmitted helminth (STH) a group of parasites

that live in the human intestine.

As the Post reported on April 23, they are picked up through the skin by walking

barefoot on ground where someone else has defecated.

Many children are shoeless and playground sanitation is often inadequate or even

non-existent.

The treatment is one Mebendazole de-worming tablet every six months and the improvements

were seen almost immediately, said WHO technical adviser Dr Reiko Tsuyuoka: "Right

now, they think slowly; they should definitely do better at school straight away."

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