Periodic deworming of children and adults can drastically reduce parasitic intestinal worms and improve the health and nutrient intake, the World Health Organisation says. In a press statement on the newly approved WHO Guidelines on need for deworming, the global health agency said a single tablet treatment can protect the estimated 1.5 billion people currently suffering from parasitic intestinal worms. The new guideline was approved by the health organisation after the WHO’s Guidelines Review Committee confirmed that deworming improves the health and nutrient intake of heavily infected children. Although WHO has long promoted large-scale treatment of intestinal worms, it had never had a guideline to support the programme and outline the benefit of deworming for children.

According to the organisation, four main species of intestinal worms, also known as soil-transmitted helminths, have been identified to affect almost a quarter of the world’s poorest and mostly marginalised people. “They are a major public health problem because the worms disrupt people’s ability to absorb nutrients, impeding the growth and physical development of millions of children,” the organisation stated. Some companies and state government in Nigeria have taken up the initiative to deworm children at schools to reduce the burden of worm infected children. This is because most parents forget that they have to deworm their children until they are advised to do so by medical experts when the children keep falling ill. Dirk Engels, Director of WHO’s Neglected Tropical Diseases Department, said there is now a global evidence-based consensus that periodic, large-scale deworming is the best way to reduce the suffering caused by intestinal worms. He said these new guidelines have been issued at a time when countries where intestinal worms are endemic are accelerating control programmes with the help of partners – to both treat people who are infected and those at risk of infection.” Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, said providing medicines to populations at risk reduces the intensity of intestinal helminth infections, but that it is not enough as deworming is not the only solution. He said improving basic hygiene, sanitation, health education and providing access to safe drinking-water are also keys to resolving the health and nutritional problems caused by intestinal worms. In 2015, just 39 per cent of the global population had access to safe sanitation, while only 71 per cent could access safe water. Antonio Montresor of WHO’s global deworming programme said the organisation aims to eliminate the harm caused by worm infections in children by 2020 by regularly treating at least 75 per cent of the estimated 873 million children in areas where prevalence is high.

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