Medicine Cabinet
Reiner W. Gloor

THIS MONTH, the Department of Health (DoH) is expected to give free deworming medication to an estimated 16 million Filipino children, notably pre-school and high school students in public schools.

On June 29 last year, the DoH conducted the first round of the program called “Oplan Goodbye Bulate” of the “National School Deworming Day” in public elementary schools.

Following this program, rumors circulated on social media that the medicine may not have been fresh as some children showed side effects, like vomiting, stomach aches, and diarrhea. Parents may not have understood that these are possible side effects of the medication and should not worry too much. However, should some of these effects — like vomiting — persist after 24 hours, it is advisable to see a health care professional or go to a hospital.

The DoH deworming drive covers children who are enrolled in Kinder to Grade 6 in all elementary public schools nationwide. The children, whose age ranges from five to 12 years, are expected to be given the tablets called Albendazole or Mebendazole. The deworming aims to prevent the negative effects of soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) or infestation with parasite worms.

These infections are due to nematodes found in soil contaminated with fecal matter, often caused by lack of proper sanitary facilities,

Most Filipino children — and adults — are infected with roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides), whipworm (Trichuris trichiura), and the hookworms Necator americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale.

Getting into contact with these worms is easy for children, as their bare hands touch the soil during playtime or while mindlessly picking up objects or things which came into contact with contaminated soil.

Deworming Filipino children is an urgent task because STH causes poor physical growth, poor intellectual development, and impaired cognitive functions among children. STH causes anemia, not only in children but also in women of child-bearing age. The STH’s “highest intensity of infection” has been documented among children aged one to two years old, with those aged between five and 12 having “the greatest load of infection,” the DoH said. STH is found in all the 81 provinces of the country.

The DoH deworming drive is one of the excellent strategies to lessen dramatically the burden of STH infections. Among the positive effects of deworming is its impact on children’s education and health — children without worms perform better in schools and are active in their studies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has commented on the negative effects of STH on the educational performance and school attendance of children when it observed “significant improvements” in language and memory developments after treatment through deworming. The World Bank’s Human Development Network Education Department recognized that school health of children affects their academic performance. “Worm infections… can reduce enrolment and increase absenteeism,” the assessment said.

The actual process of the deworming activity involves the administration of Albendazole or Mebendazole drug to students by a teacher who will be supervised by a health worker from the combined team of the DoH, Department of Education, Local government Units, or volunteer groups authorized by DoH regional offices. The two drugs are noted for their safety records with only minimal and temporary adverse reactions.

Likewise, both drugs are inexpensive and effective, which contributes a lot in making regular deworming of Filipino children both affordable and sustainable.

The DoH’s mass deworming drive has earned the praise from the WHO, with the global health agency noting that the Philippine activity “may be the biggest of such campaign in the world” and “really a significant achievement” if the targeted 16 million children are reached.

The DoH’s Oplan Goodbye Bulate is a nationwide campaign involving over 38,000 public elementary schools. Millions of school children are given access to the candy-flavored tablets costing only P1 each. In private clinics, these anti-worm drugs have prices ranging from P5 to P25 each.

During the campaign, adults could also take deworming medicine.

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