At a glance: Timor-Leste

De-worming project frees children from parasitic worms

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2005/See
A primary school student in Timor-Leste takes a de-worming tablet.

By Bridgette See

DILI, Timor-Leste, 17 November 2005 – In Timor-Leste, a high proportion of the country’s children are malnourished: More than 40 per cent are below normal weight, and nearly half are stunted in growth. Parasitic worms are one of the reasons why so many Timorese children are suffering from poor health.

“Worms interfere with the digestion and absorption of food. Children with heavy worm loads suffer from bloated stomachs, pain, and diarrhoea, and are unable to focus at school,” explained UNICEF Assistant Project Officer in Water and Sanitation, Rodolfo Pereira.

De-worming is an affordable and cost-effective intervention. UNICEF recently launched a pilot de-worming programme to help thousands of schoolchildren get rid of the worms in their body.

At each participating school, the children were given de-worming tablets. UNICEF-trained health workers also taught children and parents about intestinal parasites, explained the importance of basic hygiene practices like washing hands, and collected stool samples to determine the proportion of children infected by worms.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2005/See
Thanks to the de-worming project, Cristina (2nd row, first from right) and her siblings are now free of worms.

2,000 children freed from worms

Cristina, 6, is one the children who benefited from the de-worming programme. After taking the tablets, she and all of her siblings had worms flushed out of their bodies. Cristina was at first frightened when she saw the worms in her stool, but then she remembered her teacher’s instruction to count the worms. The first time Cristina counted six worms, and by the third round, she had excreted 17 altogether.

“Sometimes they were afraid of the tablet,” said educator Paulo Soares. “But I would always take one first to show that it’s safe. I have eaten five so far.”

Agostinho, 13, had a bad stomach ache four days after taking the medication. “There were eight worms in my stools,” he said. “I used to feel hungry all the time, but not anymore. I feel lighter too.”

The programme began in October. By its conclusion, some 2,000 Timorese children were able to say goodbye to worms.

Keys to prevention

Worm infestations can be prevented by giving children access to clean water, adequate sanitation facilities, and educating them in good hygiene habits, like washing hands after each latrine use. In Timor-Leste, less than half of the rural population have access to safe drinking water, and only 10 per cent have latrines. Poor sanitation has made the country’s children especially susceptible to worms.

This is why UNICEF is working with rural communities and village entrepreneurs to build low-cost latrines. The organization also works with the Government to provide safe drinking water by installing wells.


 

 

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