Deworming campaign completed among schoolchildren in Azerbaijan

Published on 30 May 2007

Working together, WFP Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Health and the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation (VRF) have successfully completed a deworming campaign that has significantly reduced worm infections among thousands of primary school children in Azerbaijan.

Working together, WFP Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Health and the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation (VRF) have successfully completed a deworming campaign that has significantly reduced worm infections among thousands of primary school children in Azerbaijan.

Worm infections can be so detrimental to the welfare of a child’s future

Lynne Miller, WFP’s country director in Azerbaijan

Launched in December 2006, the campaign aimed to improve the health and intellectual development of the country’s most impoverished children, many of them internally displaced.

As a result, 16,000 children from 6-11 years old have been treated at school for intestinal parasites, common among a high percentage of Azerbaijani children due to poor hygiene and a lack of awareness.

Side effects

Infections are particularly rampant among children 5-14 years old and if not treated can lead to reduced growth rates, learning problems and illnesses such as malnutrition, dysentery and anaemia.

The prevalence of worm infections, which was as high as 31 percent in 2005, has been significantly reduced over the past two years to only 3.2 percent in 2007.

The treatment was accompanied by awareness-raising among children, teachers and communities, as well as capacity-building among medical staff.

Rations as incentive

WFP’s role is to provide food rations as an incentive for parents to keep children in school and reduce dropout rates.

Some 12,000 children, both from displaced families and the local population, receive a take-home food ration at the end of each term under WFP’s Food-for-Education programme.

“Worm infections can be so detrimental to the welfare of a child’s future. By linking a de-worming activity with take-home rations, WFP hopes these children will have what they need to grow into healthy adults,” said Lynne Miller, WFP’s country director in Azerbaijan.

Parasites

A high prevalence of intestinal parasitic infection, which affects two billion people worldwide, is closely linked to poor living conditions, namely lack of safe water; contamination of the environment by human excreta; lack of shoes and poor hygiene, all of which affect the nutritional wellbeing of children.

Fortunately, worms can be eradicated with only a single treatment of Mebendazole, a medication, which according to the World Health Organization is harmless to children. The treatment of 32,000 tablets for this year’s campaign was provided by the VRF.

Founded in 1991 by renowned cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, who passed away only last month, and his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, the acclaimed soprano, VRF aims to improve the health care of children in countries that once made up the former Soviet Union.

Survery

The campaign was launched on the basis of an epidemiological baseline survey carried out jointly by WFP and the Republic Centre for Epidemiology and Hygiene, under the Ministry of Health in March 2005.

The survey’s results showed a high prevalence of soil-transmitted infections with children infected by at least one type of worm: the human pin worm (Enterobiasis), the large round worm (Ascariasis) and the whipworm (Trichocephaliasis).

Since the findings of the baseline survey in 2005, three deworming campaigns have been carried out with the same sample schools in ten districts of Azerbaijan.

Expansion

While the geographical focus on the districts remains the same, the number of schools has now expanded from 98 to 167.

Since 1994, WFP has been pivotal in assisting hundreds of thousands of displaced Azerbaijanis. Over 600,000 Azerbaijanis fled the region to other parts of the country.

Most of the displaced live in makeshift housing in remote western areas of the country, where employment possibilities are extremely limited.

To date, WFP has provided over 142,000 metric tons in food assistance, worth US$108 million to Azerbaijan to ease the hardships of the displaced population.

Funding shortfall

However, severe funding shortfalls are limiting what WFP can do in Azerbaijan.

Last September, WFP’s assistance to over 154,000 Azerbaijanis displaced by the conflict – 70 percent of whom are women and children – was brought to a complete halt.

Funding for the remaining two-year operation (2006-2008) to provide some 12,000 metric tons of food to the displaced is urgently needed for WFP to avoid shortfalls in 2007.