A single day drive of massive scale has been launched by the national government to administer a de-worming tablet to 34 crore (340 million) children. The programme will aim to de-worm all children up to age 19 and will take place across 31 states and UTs.
This manner of project has enjoyed success in the past with one round of deworming taking place in 2015 and another two rounds in 2016 – covering a total of 40 crore (400 million) children. This is a huge portion of India’s child population of roughly 50 crore (500 million).
Symptoms are primarily related to the digestive tract. Many common symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea, this may lead to loss of appetite and result in fatigue and weight loss. This is particularly problematic in children as it is associated with reduced performance in education.
Implementing deworming drives with near universal coverage of India’s children on an almost annual basis suggests that the Centre is marking it as a priority. However, deworming is not the same in terms of mechanism as a vaccination. As such, it by no means implies that future infections are prevented – just that any current worm infestation is removed. This is why repeated yearly drives are key, as it means any recurrent infection is dealt with.
A drive of this size means the national government is working in close cooperation with state governments, with the aim of covering all states in the coming months. Further cooperation with the Department of School Education and Literacy and the Ministry of Women and Child Development is in place to ensure the drive focuses on participation of those who work directly with children.
The medication in question, albendazole, has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). It can have some adverse side effects, but these are typically mild, and include vomiting and stomach ache. Nonetheless, 210 monitoring centres have been established across the country to deal with any adverse effects of the medication.
The tapeworms that the medication prevents are often spread through undercooked meats, though unsanitary conditions are also a common cause – specifically unsanitary routes of food preparation. For example, if an infected person does not properly wash their hands after using the bathroom, the worms may be passed into the food as they are passed with bowel movements.
Union Health Secretary CK Mishra links the deworming drive with the open defecation free initiative, as part of the Modi government’s Swach Bharat Abiyan (Clean India) campaign. Aiming to prevent public defecation in order to improve sanitation in a further attempt to combat the spread of tapeworm infections.
India’s children are the country’s future, and by removing an obstacle to their quality of education the country is directly investing in that future. The reduction in those infected with tapeworm would also reduce a factor contributing to malnutrition, another ailment currently plaguing India. Union Health Secretary C K Mishra has said that albendazole may become either an annual or biannually used medication in many areas, depending on the previously mapped worm load. This statement is highly encouraging and if properly implemented may lead to a massive reduction in the number of cases.