UNICEF completes pilot phase of school-based de-worming project
By Bridgette See
Dili, Timor-Leste, 11 November 2005
Cristina Marçal Xavier was terrified when she saw a cluster of worms in her stools. They were struggling in their death throes. The 6-year-old, who lives in the Mota Kiik hamlet, called for her father in fright and then remembered her teacher’s instruction to count the worms if she found any in her stools.
The first time Cristina counted, there were six worms; by the third round, she had excreted 17 altogether. Five of her eight siblings also had worms in their stools after taking anti-worm medication.
The Xaviers were among the 2,000 children in Timor-Leste taking part in a UNICEF-supported school-based de-worming project.
“We launched the project because intestinal parasitic diseases are common among Timorese children. Worms are one of the reasons why more than 42 per cent of Timorese children younger than 5 are malnourished and why 46.7 per cent are stunted in growth,” said UNICEF Assistant Project Officer in Water and Sanitation, Rodolfo Pereira.
“We launched the project because intestinal parasitic diseases are common among Timorese children."The pilot project, which began in October, covered seven schools in five districts that had working water and sanitation facilities built by UNICEF and other NGOs.
At each school, health and education workers trained by UNICEF gave information on intestinal parasites to children and parents. They also taught basic hygiene practices, such as washing hands, that help stop the transmission of worms. Stool samples were then collected to determine the proportion of children infected by worms. Finally, the children were given de-worming tablets.
“Sometimes they were afraid of the tablet, but I would always take one first to show that it’s safe. I have eaten five so far,” said education staff Paulo Soares.
Not all the children found the experience fun. Thirteen-year-old Agostinho Do Rosario had a bad stomach ache for four days after taking the medication.
“There were eight worms in my stools,” he said shyly. The boy – too skinny and short for his age – added, “I used to feel hungry all the time, but not anymore. I feel lighter too.”
Worms are transmitted by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the worms’ eggs. But this could be prevented if there is proper waste disposal, if water sources are clean and if hands are washed before eating and after using the latrine.
But this is hard to ask of Timorese, as less than half of the rural population has access to safe drinking water, while only 10 per cent of those who live in the countryside have latrines. Timorese children between the ages of 5 and 12 are especially susceptible to worms.
“Worms interfere with the digestion and absorption of food, creating huge appetites that if not met could cause malnutrition. Children with heavy worm loads suffer from bloated stomachs, pain and diarrhoea and are unable to focus at school,” said Pereira.
De-worming is thus an affordable, cost-effective and sensible intervention.
Cristina’s father, Antonio Tetibuti, was glad that his children were free of worms and would do his best to keep them that way.
“But children will be children,” he said, “They play in the dirt and with other children, so it’s hard to control them completely.”
Thus, improving the cleanliness of the environment is just as important. This is why UNICEF works with rural communities and village entrepreneurs to build low-cost latrines. UNICEF also works with the government to provide safe drinking water via wells, rainwater jars and spring-protection systems.