Although decreasing since 1998, the drop is far from significant given the impact on nutritional status of a country.
One factor contributing to stunting is parasitic infections and it is this that health authorities want to address with its annual observance of National Deworming Month.
Frontline healthcare workers in community health centres will again be working double time this July to ensure that children, especially those in the 1 to 5 age bracket are given deworming tablets. These are provided free at all public health stations.
The Department of Health is most concerned about kids who have never previously received the antihelminthic drug, which should ideally be administered twice a year to prevent helminthic infections.
With nearly double its budget for deworming activities, health officials are exhorting parents to bring their children to public health facilities.
Other than those who have not previously received the deworming tablet, children constantly exposed to surroundings where helminths and parasites thrive are most encouraged to come for preventive treatment.
For Cebu health centers, Dr Al Patrick Alajas of the DOH Deworming Program Coordinator for Central Visayas said that the programme is safe, effective and free. He noted that tablets will be given to those between 1 and 18 in age.
The tablets should be taken after meals, twice yearly for optimum efficacy. Parents should be made aware of its side effects, which include headache, stomach ache and nausea, and be informed that health center workers will monitor children for side effects.
Last January, Secretary of Health Paulyn Ubial announced the Health Department is targeting to deworm 19 million public school students and 23 million preschool and out-of-school youths on a wider scale.
The high target is to prevent the infection from spreading, which has reached 66 percent among the age group 1 to 5 years, and in some areas, even reaching 90 percent.
The campaign will focus school-age children as they have the highest incidence, compared with any other age-group.
Consent forms must be signed by parents for students to receive the chewable deworming tablet. These are provided free in public schools. Private school administrators can decide to deworm students later and avail of the tablets from drug stores.
Worm infestations - either pinworms, tapeworms or roundworms - can cause unpleasant side effects and delay in learning ability, cognitive function and educational achievement. Absenteeism is heavily associated with the infection.
Helminth infections can impair a child’s nutritional status and cause internal bleeding that may lead to iron loss and anaemia, malabsorption of nutrients, diarrhoea and loss of appetite resulting in lack or reduced energy.
According to the DOH Health Calendar, the first round of deworming programme will be held in this month. And it will likewise include prevention against schistosomiasis - an infection caused by blood flukes.
DOH is hoping to cover 80 percent of the target for the implementation, and is looking to coordinate with civil society groups and local government units to meet its goal. MIMS
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