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Govt to roll out massive deworming campaign

New Delhi, July 15, 2013, DHNS; 1:18 IST

It will be part of iron, folic acid supplementation

Overlooking latest medical research on the benefits of mass-scale deworming in Indian kids, the Union Healthy Ministry is all set to roll out a nation-wide campaign on adolescent health that will include deworming for children in government schools in every six months.

The deworming campaign would be a part of a Rs 135 crore weekly iron and folic acid supplementation programme for boys and girls in the 10-19 years age group.

Public health workers will ask school children to use a medicine called Albendazole (400 mg) to get rid of dangerous soil worms that enters the body from ignorant physical contact and trigger many diseases. “Children will be given deworming tablets in January and July. We have unmistakable evidence of how it helps children,” said Anuradha Gupta, additional secretary in the Union Health Ministry.

An extensive trial on one million pre-school age Indian children – published in Lancet on March 14 – however, showed deworming with Albendazole had no significant health benefit. Carried out by researchers at King George Medical University, University of Oxford and the World Bank on children in 8338 villages in Uttar Pradesh, the DEVTA (Deworming and Vitamin A) trial made it clear that there was no significant increase in weight gain among children — the proxy for better nutrition. Moreover, there is no impact on mortality.

“For deworming, the results are somewhat surprising. A community trial in Lucknow, completed in 1994, estimated an average weight gain of almost a kg. When DEVTA was set up in nearby rural areas, it was reasonable to assume such effects would translate into long-term health benefits. Yet DEVTA shows no significant effect of deworming on pre-school mortality,” said an editorial in the same issue of Lancet.

The ministry officials claimed they relied on World Health Organisation, which stressed on the importance of deworming in India. But there is no update from the world health body after the publication of results of DEVTA trial, which is the world's biggest drug trial ever undertaken.

“Deworming may work in high-burden areas and if children are screened beforehand,” H P S Sachdeva, former president of Indian Academy of Paediatrics and one of the co-authors of the Lancet editorial told Deccan Herald.

The health ministry programme, however, does not take these factors into account while drafting the programme due to logistical reasons. Deworming tablets would be given to everybody without any screening or checking the worm-load of the area.

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