In one of the country’s largest single-day public health initiatives, an estimated 34 crore children will be administered de-worming tablets on Friday to reduce worm infestation that can stifle physical and intellectual growth. Marking National De-worming Day, the Health Ministry for the first time will also cover private schools. It has asked state governments to rope them in, while it has set up 210 monitoring centres across the country to tackle adverse reactions to the tablet like stomach ache and vomiting. India has the highest burden of worm infections in the world, with the World Health Organisation estimating in 2014 that over 22 crore Indian children aged between 1 and 14 years are at risk.
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“Last year, an issue had been raised that the government has been de-worming children only in government schools and left out the private schools. This year, we are trying to cover private schools also which means close to an additional eight crore children. Since this is the first year, we may not have 100 per cent coverage in private schools,” Union Health Secretary CK Mishra said. “This is also going to be a single-day strategy. Across the country, albendazole tablet is in place for use. It is a safe drug and we have been using it year after year and all technical experts including WHO have certified the safety and efficacy of the drug.”
This year, the Health Ministry is working with the Department of School Education and Literacy and the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Mishra said that while 37 crore children in the age group of 1-19 years are to be administered the tablet, the ministry has set a target of reaching 34 crore of them. The ministry this time has completed the mapping in all states and depending on the worm load, it will be decided whether it will be an annual or biannual exercise, he added. “31 states and UTs will implement this programme in February 2017. The rest will do it in subsequent months. Three rounds (of de-worming) we have already had. In one round in 2015 and two rounds in 2016, we have de-wormed 40 crore children. This year alone, we are trying to reach that figure.”
“Three new things which have critically come up this year are expanded coverage, inclusion of private schools and this decision is far more scientific based on the worm load study. This is an ambitious programme…link it with open defecation free status. The more that (defecation free) happens, the less of worm infestation there will be,” Mishra said.