MANILA, Philippines - There are still nine million children suffering from intestinal worms despite a nationwide deworming program from 2004 to 2009, an expert from the University of the Philippines (UP) campus in Manila said yesterday.
Dr. Vicente Belizario, vice chancellor for research at the UP Manila, 72 percent of children in the country had intestinal worms when the Department of Health (DOH) launched a nationwide deworming program in 2004.
The DOH provided free deworming drugs to all elementary school children, seeking to bring down the prevalence rate to less than 20 percent, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), he said.
Belizario said despite the program, the prevalence rate was reduced to 40 percent by 2009 – 8.8 million children were still infected with intestinal worms.
“The coverage is still very low. This is not acceptable, based on the WHO recommendation and considering that the DOH has been purchasing all the deworming tablets,” noted Belizario, who is also the executive director of the UP-National Institute for Health, whose research on helminthiasis became the basis for the deworming program.
He attributed the low coverage to the parents’ lack of awareness on the benefits of deworming their children and the “lack of preparation” in the administration of the deworming drugs in schools.
“Many parents do not want their children to undergo deworming for fear of the side effects. They are worried that the worms would come out through the mouth... Although it is a natural phenomenon and the worms just came out the wrong way,” Belizario said.
He said many parents are unmindful of the need for their children to be dewormed twice a year because they do not see the worms. “They have to understand that there are worms that are not seen by the naked eye,” Belizario said.
The UP official said that in most schools, the teachers have not been trained and prepared to administer the drugs and deal with possible side effects. Belizario stressed that intestinal worms are one of the root causes of a child’s poor performance in school, adding that infected children suffer from stunted growth and chronic malnutrition.
The WHO said a child can be infected with roundworms, whipworms or hookworms.
“Infected people excrete helminth eggs in their feces, which then contaminate the soil in areas with inadequate sanitation. Other people can then be infected by ingesting eggs or larvae in contaminated food, or through penetration of the skin by infective larvae in the soil (hookworms),” the WHO said.
Worm infection linked to poverty
According to Belizario, the highest prevalence rate is in Mindanao while the situation in Metro Manila and Bulacan is “better.”
“This has a link to poverty. If you look at the poverty index, most likely many of the children there have worms because (few households of toilets). There is also problem with water supply… to wash their hands,” he added.
The “model” area for the program is Western Visayas, where the deworming coverage is 80 to 90 percent, he said.
Belizario said that since the program is ongoing, he hopes that by strengthening the education campaign, the target coverage for deworming would still be achieved. He also wants the program expanded to cover high school students.
“For example in Leyte, 70 percent of the adolescents have worms. So we are recommending that even the high school students be dewormed,” he said.