Photo credit: IRD
January 31, 2019 (Islamabad, Pakistan) — The Government of Pakistan has initiated the “Deworm Islamabad Initiative,” targeting 570,000 children aged 5-15 in Islamabad who are at risk of infection with intestinal worms, also known as soil-transmitted helminths. Trained school teachers administered free-of-cost deworming medicine (mebendazole), which is universally recognized as a safe and cost-effective treatment. Mass deworming through a school-based approach provides an easy way to achieve high coverage, as trusted, trained teachers administer tablets in schools. Parents were requested to send their children to any nearest government school to get access to safe deworming medicine for their child. Children do not need to be enrolled in that particular school to receive the medicine.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 1.5 billion people, or nearly 1 in 4 of the world’s population, are infected globally with soil-transmitted helminths, with over 835 million children in need of treatment. These infections result from poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, and tend to have the highest prevalence in children of school-going age. The consequences of chronic worm infections in children are both widespread and debilitating. Worm infections interfere with nutrient uptake, can lead to anemia, malnourishment, and impaired mental and physical development, and pose a serious threat to children’s health, education, and productivity. Infected children are too sick or tired to concentrate at school, or to attend at all. There is a strong body of evidence supporting the benefits of school-based deworming, which include decreased school absenteeism, improved nutrition and cognition, and higher earnings in adulthood.
A national prevalence survey conducted to assess the status of intestinal worm infection in school-age children across Pakistan found that approximately 17 million school-age children across Pakistan are in need of regular deworming. The school-based deworming program is being coordinated by a multi-stakeholder committee led by the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform in collaboration with the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination, and the Office of the Chief Commissioner Islamabad. IRD and Evidence Action are providing technical assistance in creating, implementing, and strengthening the deworming program in Islamabad.
A training cascade structure was implemented to train teachers from selected schools, disseminate the adverse event management protocol, and provide them with the deworming tablets and necessary materials. Community mobilization campaigns were launched to encourage participation of both enrolled and non-enrolled children. To facilitate programmatic improvements, a strong monitoring and evaluation system is being adopted.
The success of the school-based deworming program in Islamabad will ensure a significant improvement in outcomes related to education, health, earnings, and long term well-being of children of Islamabad.