KABUL - The United Nations World Food Programme announced today that it had completed the largest de-worming campaign ever undertaken, reaching over 4.5 million schoolchildren in Afghanistan.
The campaign was carried out by WFP in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and supported by the Afghan Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education. It was the first time that the UN had undertaken a nation-wide de-worming programme. More than 90 percent of the targeted five million 6-12 year-old children received treatment.
"This is truly an incredible achievement," said Michael Jones, WFP Deputy Country Director for Afghanistan. "Not only because it has been organised for the first time, but also because it has been done in Afghanistan, a country whose needs are as huge as its challenges."
The cost of the campaign came to some US$476,000 - just over 10 US cents per child treated. "For this tiny sum, the lives of these children can be totally transformed," Jones said.
After more than 20 years of war, which left much of Afghanistan's infrastructure and educational system in shatters, the challenges of covering the remotest corners of this very inaccessible country seemed insurmountable.
However, when a baseline study carried out in 2003 showed that almost 50 percent of Afghan schoolchildren were infected by single or multiple types of intestinal worms - with the rate as high as 75 percent at one school in Kabul - the Afghan Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with WFP, WHO and UNICEF, decided to respond. The treatment is completely harmless to children not infected.
The campaign was launched in March this year, with the aim of reducing worm infections and by doing so improving children's physical and intellectual growth. This would greatly improve the effectiveness of WFP school feeding programmes, which are targeted at more than one million Afghan schoolchildren in 2004.
In the developing world, intestinal worms rank first among the causes of disease in infants and school-age children. Worldwide, more than 400 million children are known to be affected.
Worm infections can cause a wide range of pathological conditions, including stunting and weight loss, reduced physical fitness, increased susceptibility to other infections, learning and cognitive deficiencies, impaired micronutrient status and anaemia - and can be fatal.
The children were treated at around 7,000 schools throughout Afghanistan - almost 90 percent of the primary schools in the country, including official government-run, non-official or home-based schools, as well as Islamic madrasas.
The drug distribution was combined with a health awareness campaign, in line with findings of the baseline study showing shortcomings in basic hygiene-related knowledge, attitudes and behaviour among children.
Through radio spots, leaflets, posters, banners and training of teachers and government officials, awareness was raised among caretakers and community leaders, as well primary school-age children and their parents about the risks of worms and ways to prevent infection.
A follow-up campaign, targeting urban centres, is scheduled for November 2004.
Nearly 50 percent of the funding for the campaign came from Canada, which donated US$230,000. The remainder was made up with funds from the three UN agencies, with WFP as the lead agency.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school -- a gift of hope for a brighter future.
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