Nationwide deworming exercise:Over 3.2m school-aged children targeted
The Ghana Health Service (GHS) is undertaking an exercise to deworm over 3,223,502 school-aged children between five and 14 years in 116 districts spread across 15 regions of the country.
The deworming exercise, which began last Monday and is expected to end on Friday, will administer the children with Praziquantel and Albendazole.
It is aimed at eliminating schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted Helminth Infestations (STH), both parasitic worm infestations.
Schistosomiasis is a disease caused by parasitic worms that live in freshwater. The worm infestation is prevalent in Ghana and it is more common in children who are in poverty-stricken areas due to poor sanitation and hygiene. It is potentially dangerous with numerous health implications.
Soil-transmitted Helminth (STH), on the other hand, infest individuals who accidentally ingest their eggs, which are found on contaminated soil, by consuming contaminated food or water or by direct contact with soil. The symptoms of STH infections include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, anaemia, malnutrition and impaired physical and cognitive development.
These infestations are mostly prevalent in areas with poor sanitation, inadequate hygiene practices and low socio-economic conditions.
The annual exercise, dubbed: School and community based deworming campaign, is a collaborative effort between the GHS and the Ghana Education Service (GES) to promote the health and immunity of school-aged children.
At a media briefing of the school deworming exercise in Accra yesterday, the Director of the Public Health Division of the GHS, Dr Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, said schistosomiasis and STH tended to affect school-aged children most severely because, among others, their immune systems were not fully developed yet, leaving them with a weaker defence against parasites.
Statistics on intestinal worms
Quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Asiedu-Bekoe said it had been estimated that nearly one in four of the world’s population or over 1.5 billion globally were infested with intestinal worms, with more than 880 million school-aged children requiring attention.
Narrowing it to Ghana, he said there was estimated prevalence of schistosomiasis at 23.3 per cent with focal or localised prevalence levels less than 50 per cent.
The GHS Director of Public Health said female genital schistosomiasis had a significant impact on the quality of life of affected girls and women including infertility, menstrual disorder and recurrent urinary tract infections.
He said the control of schistosomiasis and STH was based on large-scale treatment of at-risk population groups, access to safe water, improved sanitation, hygiene, education and behavioural change and environmental management.
Dr Asiedu-Bekoe urged schools and parents to cooperate and support the deworming exercise in the targeted districts and schools in order to improve coverage and help get rid of parasitic infestations in Ghana.
“Let me stress that all children should eat before taking these medicines because it helps in the absorption and effectiveness of the medication. When taken on an empty stomach, the medication can cause stomach discomfort or nausea.
“Preferably, medicines should be administered immediately after the first break or after children have been served food by the school feeding programme to give the assurance that all children have eaten.
“By this, all parents, guardians and caregivers are to ensure their children eat before going to school,” he advised.
The Director of the School Health Education Programme (SHEP) of GES, Theresah Oppong-Mensah, said the deworming exercise had been going on since 1994 and in preparation towards this year’s event, a number of staff, including teachers and directors of education, had been trained and well equipped to deliver the service at the school level.
She said all logistics needed for the exercise as well as the messages to be delivered at the school and community levels had been dispatched to the beneficiary districts.
The Programme Manager of the Neglected Tropical Diseases, Dr Joseph Opare, said even though the schools deworming exercise had led to drastic reduction in worm infestation in the country, there were still issues to be dealt with and that was why they had to continue with the exercise to make sure that they were able to eliminate schistosomiasis and STH.