Real lives

Real lives


Improving child health through deworming and vitamin A supplementation

mother and daughter
© UNICEF/Gambia/May 2016/ssinghateh
Sarjo Touray, 20-years-old, is happy because her 3-year-old daughter, Yassin, has not complained of stomach pain or diarrhoea since she took mebendazole for deworming

Twenty year-old Sarjo Touray, watched in horror and disbelief as her 3 year-old daughter, Yassin Drammeh, threw up a 3-inch worm less than 24 hours after ingesting mebendazole tablet for intestinal deworming. Before the incident, she never considered her daughter having worms even though, prior to that, Yassin suffered from recurrent diarrhoea and stomach pains.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” admitted Sarjo Touray, a mother of two children from Kerr Ardo village, Lower Badibou District, in the North Bank Region of the Islamic Republic of The Gambia (IRTG).

Yassin was given the tablet during the vitamin A supplementation (VAS) and deworming campaign, which was integrated into the measles/rubella vaccination campaign, conducted from April 25 to May 1, 2016.

“The day after Yassin took the tablet, she vomited the worm, and the following day, she excreted another one just as long,” explained Sarjo.  

Intestinal worms remain a health concern for the Government of The Gambia, UNICEF, and other key partners as they instigate not only recurrent diarrhoeal diseases but also malnutrition and anaemia in children, which can inflict lasting damage on children’s development, such as stunting. It is estimated that 50 per cent of malnutrition cases are associated with diarrhoea or with repeated intestinal worm infections (WHO, 2008; Cochrane, 2008).

Unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene and sanitation practices, including open defecation and limited hand washing with soap, are key causes of intestinal worms in children. Up to 40 per cent of households nationwide still use non-improved sanitation facilities, with a much higher incident in the rural than in the urban areas (63% and 23%, respectively), according to the 2013 Demographics and Health survey (DHS).

The Government, through its various ministries and departments, has adopted different approaches to reduce the incidence of worm infestation and related diseases such as diarrhoea in children, as well as increase the intake of VAS. For instance, through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoHSW), with support from UNICEF, mebendazole is offered to all children aged 12-59 months, and vitamin A to 6-59 month-olds countrywide through routine reproductive and health clinics, nutrition surveillance and during countrywide vaccination campaigns.

UNICEF also provides Communication for Development support to the Ministry of Health to promote 6 key house hold behaviours in vulnerable communities, two of which are building a culture of hand washing with soap at critical times, and using home-made oral rehydration solution to for diarrhoea .

“Because of health talks conducted in our village sometimes, I am able to treat Yassin with a mixture of water and salt-sugar solution whenever she has an attack of diarrhoea and stomach pain,” added Sarjo

However the coverage of VAS and deworming interventions is still low. In 2013, the Demographic Health Surveys (DHS 2013) reported that 73 per cent of the children in the Gambia suffered from some level of anaemia. The same report also showed that 69 per cent of children 6-59 months were supplemented with a dose of vitamin A and only 34 per cent of children 12-59 months were dewormed. This is mainly due to the fact that mothers stop bringing older children (above 18 months) after they complete immunizations.

UNICEF with support from the UK NatCom, started strengthening the VAS and deworming of children under five years of age in 2012. This year, UNICEF supported the government to conduct national VAS and de-worming campaigns which were integrated with the Measles and Rubella campaign. The results of the campaign showed that 84 per cent of the children 6-59 months were supplemented with vitamin A and 90 per cent of the children 12-59 months were dewormed. 

“I am thankful for these campaigns and to all those who make them happen because they reinforce the health of our children,” said Sarjo. ““Since she vomited the worm, Yassin’s condition has improved greatly. She is now much healthier than before and for that I am grateful.”



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