The State Health Department is planning to distribute deworming pills to everyone, irrespective of their age, as per its new programme to fight soil-transmitted infections, anaemia and iron deficiency. Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation will be supplying the medications for the programme to the Directorate of Public Health.
Deworming is done in various stages for children and a similar protocol will be followed for the adults also by distributing tablets twice a year. Medicos say deworming prevents stunted growth, resulting from the absence of sufficient nutrients in the body and helps promote growth. Though deworming was earlier recommended to treat infections due to ringworms, hookworms and whipworms, medicos say that deworming also helps in preventing diarrhoea, anaemia, coughing, fatigue and lethargy.
Infections due to hookworms and other parasites lead to loss of iron from the blood cells and thus causes anaemia. One of the main issues that women and children across the state face is anaemia as the worms have additional effects on haemoglobin and cognitive functioning. Though iron supplementation and adequate nutritional intake can help prevent anaemia, the worms consume the red blood cells and lead to blood loss in the body.
“More than 50 per cent of children up to the age of six are anaemic. Anaemia in infants is mainly caused due to the high-risk anaemia among lactating mothers. About 70 per cent of pregnant mothers across the State are anaemic, which leads to pregnancy-related complications also. Despite the distribution of iron tablets and other nutritional supplements to all pregnant women and lactating mothers, the risk of anaemia is high, mostly among the new mothers,” says Dr R Vinita, a senior obstetrician at Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
The adult deworming programme is based on the idea that all individuals need to get the worms removed regularly as it affects their nutrition and growth. “It is very common for people to get affected by the worms or worm eggs when walking barefoot or other direct exposure to soil. The intestinal obstruction and deficiency of iron and haemoglobin are some of the common symptoms among individuals, including adults, and the same can be prevented using the deworming pills,” says Dr R Thangamani, a senior gastroenterologist at Kasturba Gandhi Government General Hospital.
Nutritional deficiencies and stunted growth have been identified to be common problems in almost all adolescents across India as per a UNICEF report last year. As per the report titled ‘Adolescents, Diets and Nutrition: Growing Well in a Changing World’, the children in the age group of 10-19 years are thin, short, overweight or obese with more than 80 per cent of adolescents suffering from deficiency of one or more micronutrients including iron, folate, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D or vitamin B12.
Paediatricians say worms are also the cause behind nutritional deficiencies and poor growth.
“Worms enter the bloodstream and hinder the absorption of nutrients and growth of children. Though this factor is very common in children, it is being identified in adolescents also. Removal of these worms from the body can help in improving growth. Thus, the adult deworming programme also seems necessary because people generally follow the deworming schedule only till the age of 10 or 12. However, it is needed till the age of about 20 years to enable proper growth and prevent deficiencies,” says Dr Mohan Kumar, a senior paediatrician at Institute of Child Health.
Officials from the Directorate of Public Health say the children are being given Albendazole 400 mg tablet, which is currently being distributed through schools. A door-to-door campaign will be launched for the adult deworming programme in a phased manner to cover the seven crore population of the State.
Director of Public Health Dr K Kolandaisamy says the Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation is in charge of providing the bulk order of the deworming pills and the state health department will allocate the same. “The programme is likely to start from February this year,” he adds.