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4.5 million children across Ghana to be dewormed

Ghana launches first nationwide deworming programme in basic schools

ACCRA, 5 February 2007 – The Ghana Education Service and the Ghana Health Service, with support from UNICEF, today launched National Deworming Day, the start of Ghana’s first nationwide programme to deworm all children in public basic schools.

During 12-16 February, four and a half million children in over 28,000 public schools across Ghana (Kindergarten to JSS 3) will be treated for soil-transmitted worm infestation, which causes a host of serious health problems and often prevents children from attending school or being able to concentrate while in class.

Children will be dewormed by head teachers and school health teachers who have been trained to administer deworming medicine Mebendazole (500 mg) and to teach their students about the dangers of worms. The February exercise marks the beginning of an effort to implement two rounds of deworming every year. The second round which takes place later this year will include treatment for schistosomiasis (bilharzia), a type of worm infestation caused by water-transmitted worms.

“The deworming exercise will no doubt contribute to improving the academic performance of our school children,” said Deputy Minister of Education, Science and Sports, Hon. Kwame Ampofo-Twumasi.

For girls and boys aged 5 to 14 years in low-income countries, intestinal worms account for an estimated 11 and 12 percent, respectively, of the total disease burden, and represent the single largest contributor to the disease burden of this group. In Ghana, there is no accurate estimate on prevalence rates but anecdotal evidence suggests they are similar to the global situation.

The three most common soil-transmitted worms affecting children are roundworms, whipworms and hookworms. In the first two cases, children are infested when they eat unwashed foods grown on soil contaminated by worm eggs. Children are infested with hookworm when they walk barefooted and the larvae on soil burrows into their skin.

Worm infestations often cause serious health problems and impact a child’s ability to attend and perform well in school. By robbing children of some of the food they eat and affecting the way food is absorbed, worms take away essential nutrients – especially iron – and contribute to anemia, malnutrition and stunted growth. Chronic infestation can lead to long-term retardation of mental and physical development. The most severe worm infestations can lead to death.

Positive hygiene practices are essential for the prevention of worm infestation. Worm eggs are passed out through the human faeces of infected persons, and grow on soil and in water when faeces are left out in the open. Using a latrine/toilet, handwashing before eating and after using the latrine/toilet, proper disposal of faeces and washing of all fruits and vegetables in clean water are critical practices to break this cycle of infection.

Research has shown that regular deworming can substantially increase primary school attendance and significantly improve a child's ability to learn in school. Treatment is simple and exceptionally cost-effective. Operational research in some developing countries shows that for the first five years of intervention, the average yearly cost of delivered treatment – taking into account current drug prices – is typically less than US $0.50 per child in an area where both schistosomiasis and the common soil-transmitted worms are present, and less than US $0.25 per child in an area where only the latter are present.

Symptoms of worm infestation depend on the type of worms, but the more common signs include loss of appetite, swollen or painful abdomen, coughing, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and listlessness.

In the weeks leading up to the deworming exercise, training programmes for 28,000 teachers across the country equipped head teachers and/or school health teachers with practical knowledge about the detection and treatment of worm infections. A major logistical effort was undertaken to provide each school with deworming pills and necessary supplies such as cups and water.

During 12-16 February, Community Health Nurses will monitor the deworming activities in schools. On 12 February, at the national level, the Ministers of Education and Health and the Director-Generals of the Ghana Education Service and Ghana Health Service will also visit schools in Tema.

The national deworming programme is being undertaken as a component of the School Health Education Programme (SHEP) of the Ghana Education Service. In addition to major supporters, it is also backed by the Noguchi Memorial Institute and a number of NGOs. The national deworming exercise is designed to complement one of the Ghana @ 50 efforts to achieve a “Clean Ghana”.

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About UNICEF

UNICEF is on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For more information, please contact:

Mrs. Cynthia Bosumtwi-Sam, National Coordinator, School Health Education Programme (SHEP), Ghana Education Service, (233) 21-244-229, cindysam06@yahoo.co.uk

Allison Hickling, UNICEF Ghana, (233) 24-433-4996, ahickling@unicef.org


 

 

 

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