For the whole month of July, the Department of Health will be targeting 5 to 18-year-olds in its deworming campaign. This will include public school students and pre-school and out-of-school youth.

The mass deworming drive hopes to significantly reduce the infection rate of parasitic diseases. DOH statistics show the rate is alarming at 66 percent among the one to five-year-old age group. In certain areas, it even goes up to 90 percent, according to Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial. And the numbers are certainly a cause for concern.

“The situation is far too critical,” the Health chief was quoted as saying.

But National Deworming Month goes beyond administering medication for deworming. Health officials want to take the opportunity to dissuade the public from open defecation, particularly in rural areas.

It is this practice that results in the no-stop multiplication of intestinal worms that then increases the chances of infection.

Secretary Ubial explained that the method of infection for parasitic diseases is not through person-to-person contact. Rather, it is when the parasites in eggs are passed in the stool and mature in the soil that increases the risk of spread and infection.

Children, unfortunately, are able to ingest these worms over and over again thus the need to put an end to defecating in the open.

Admittedly, the DOH knows it needs to do more to raise the level of acceptance among Filipinos about preventive measures to reduce the risk of parastic diseases, including schistomiasis.

But with 6.8 million Filipinos already exposed to schistomisias and an estimated 12 million at risk for infection, the concern is not without strong basis.

The World Health Organization has already indicated that prevention of schistomiasis via medication must be repeated over a number of years to be effective.

In the Philippines, deworming activities particularly in rural communities, are conducted in January and July every year. The drugs come in the form of chewable tablets and are distributed for free in community health stations. They are also available over-the-counter for students in private schools.

The problem among Filipinos, Secretary Ubial rued, is that they often ignore calls for preventive measures against disease and will only seek medication when the patient is ill.

That is why there is a need for the DOH to be aggressive in its campaign to get parents to sign a consent form so children can be administered with the chewable tablet.

And aside from deworming, equally important is educating the public about proper public hygiene, which includes discouraging open defecation, according to the DOH.

Schistomiasis is endemic in 12 regions and 28 provinces, thus the need for the deworming activities.

The health agency is targeting an 85 percent deworming rate, 10 percent higher than the WHO-prescribed target, to make a significant change in problems due to intestinal worm infection.

Children infected with parasitic diseases perform poorly in school, and are often lethargic and sleepy.

In severe cases, worms may burrow in different parts of the body and cause adverse conditions such as a heart attack. MIMS

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