Gov’t deworming program in public schools not very effective, says health exec
MANILA, Philippines—Nearly half—44 percent—of the 22 million public school students in the country have worms, the head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said Saturday.
NIH Executive Director Dr. Vicente Belizario Jr. said the government’s deworming program was not as effective as it should be due to the lack of information and preparation at the school level.
He said that because they had worms, many public school students were small, thin, malnourished and performed poorly in school.
In 2004-2006), “70 percent of Filipino schoolchildren had worms. The latest check we did—we were funded by the Department of Health to do a study at sentinel sites—showed this went down to a 44-percent infection rate,” Belizario said in an interview.
“This is still not acceptable because the World Health Organization says it has to be less than 20 percent,” he said.
Belizario said the national deworming program covered only 20 percent of affected schoolchildren, way below the 75-percent recommended by the WHO, even as the government buys millions of pesos worth of drugs annually to fight worms.
“The coverage is very low. A major reason is a lack of information. It’s not as simple as the NIH sending the drugs to the schools and just leaving it to them to cure the children. You need to have preparation. You have to train the teachers. You have to have ties with (the Department of Education),” Belizario said.
“It looks like it is not just the drugs but the infrastructure that has to be prepared to implement school-based deworming,” he added.
Belizario said the deworming program covered only students aged 1 to 14 years old and they are given medicine twice a year. Belizario said the program should also cover students up to 18 years old
“We investigated 14 to 18 years old and found out that they also had a high infection rate. For example, in Leyte, 70 percent of the adolescents have worms,” Belizario said.
He said a single worms passes out “hundreds of thousands of eggs” that are infectious for up to two years.
“Actually, the problem is nationwide. The situation in Bulacan is better and Metro Manila, in general, is better than the rural areas but it’s not spared. The highest rates will be in Mindanao, Samar, and Leyte,” Belizario said.
“This is linked to poverty. If you look at the (poorest provinces in the) poverty index, its is most likely that they have the problem because there are not many toilets, and water for washing hands is also hard to come by,” he added.
Belizario said the infection rate in private schools ranged from 10 to 20 percent but it shoots up to 60 to 70 percent in public schools.
“We have to influence the government to include all high school students nationwide because the worms come back after six months,” he said.
“We had one school in Cavite where up to 98 percent, or almost everybody, was infected. You could close your eyes and, when you get hold of a student, it’s most likely that he has worms,” he added.
To make the deworming program more effective, Belizario said the government should enlighten the public about it, addressing in particular complaints that the medicines are bitter, that they cause stomach pains, or that the worms go out of the mouths of the children.
“You need to tie up with local health unit so that if there are side effects, the students can be referred to a health center. Like when there are stomach pains or when the worms come out of the mouth, which is normal. The public should not be frightened about that,” Belizario said.
He said the program was successful in Western Visayas, where coverage rates reached 80 to 90 percent, after pharmaceutical company provided assistance.
“When we were starting this, DOH was saying it had no money. Now, we have the money and the medicine but it’s not being used. The coverage is low because of a lack of information and preparation,” Belizario said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.