Six million Afghan children to be dewormed

Published on 16 September 2005

Ahead of this weekend’s elections in Afghanistan, WFP has announced the launch of the 2005 national deworming campaign.

The government campaign, which aims to improve the health and intellectual development of six million children across Afghanistan, is also being supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Common disease

This national government programme is targeted at treating six-to-twelve-year-olds for intestinal parasites or worms, a common disease which leaves a high percentage of Afghan children feeling generally unwell.

In the long term, worm infections cause a range of problems, including reduced growth rate, learning problems and illnesses such as dysentry and anaemia.

Fortunately, worms can be eradicated with one 500 mg tablet of Mebendazol and the treatment is harmless to children not affected. UNICEF provided 6.5 million tablets for this year’s campaign and WHO contributed US$20,000 to buy one million.

Complex campaign

“It is tragic that children in this country are suffering because of worms when they can be so easily treated,” said Charles Vincent, WFP Country Director for Afghanistan. “Deworming children will not only improve their general health but it will also enable them to study better at school.

“This campaign is complex, as it aims to reach millions of children, many of them in remote areas and many of them not even at school. But with ministries taking the lead and UN agencies pooling their expertise and resources, we can make a big difference,” he said.

Schools, orphanages, homes

WFP’s school feeding programme in Afghanistan currently benefits 1.4 million children.

This deworming initiative will be implemented in 8,800 educational establishments, including primary, non-formal and Koranic schools, as well as orphanages. Children not attending school will also targeted.

Training sessions

WFP has organised training sessions for about 9,000 teachers at provincial and district levels on how to distribute the tablets, as well as basic health and hygiene lessons to pass on to the children.

UNICEF will provide 24,000 copies of the health textbook “Facts for Life” to schools, as well as training for Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health focal points on its contents.

Two rounds

The deworming campaign will take place in two rounds. Six million children will be treated across the country in the coming weeks and in early 2006, there are plans for over one million of them to receive a second dosage.

This second round will take place in the major urban areas (Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Badakhshan, Ghazni) and provinces surrounding Kabul (Wardak, Logar, Kapisa, Parwan, Bamiyan, Kabul Province) due to the higher rates of infestation.

The numbers of children targeted for deworming has gone up from 4.5 million in 2004 to six million in 2005. The change is a combination of increased school enrolment and a revised estimate on the number of six-to-twelve year olds in Afghanistan.