Press release from Deworm the World, Patna, India

Over 17 million children in Bihar were provided with deworming treatment as part of one of the largest school-based deworming efforts ever conducted in the world.

The announcement was made jointly by the Department of Health & Family Welfare, Department of Human Resource Development and global initiative Deworm the World as they reported the results of Bihar’s first-ever state-wide school-based deworming programme implemented earlier this year from February through April 2011.

Bihar has a very high rate of parasitic worm infection, with all school-age children at risk and more than 50% school-age children infected in most districts, according to prevalence surveys conducted in 2010 – 11 by Deworm the World. As worm infections damage children’s health, education and development, all school-age children in Bihar – nearly 21 million – were targeted for deworming by this programme. Infected children are more likely to suffer from malnutrition and anaemia, resulting in children who are either too sick or too tired to concentrate in class or to attend school. This can cause lifelong harm to a child with research showing that children who remain infected earn 43% less as adults, and are 13% less likely to be literate.

Fortunately, treating worm infection is as easy as administering a deworming tablet once or twice each year to all school-age children. The medication is safe for both infected and uninfected children, and delivery through schools ensures the greatest coverage and impact. Deworming children in schools, where the treatment is administered by teachers and supported by healthcare staff, is a simple and cost-effective way to improve children’s health and their ability to learn, and has been shown to reduce school absenteeism by as much as 25%.

This massive first-time deworming programme in Bihar was launched and implemented under the direction of the State School Health Coordination Committee, an inter-sectoral committee of the Department of Health & Family Welfare and Department of Human Resource Development in coordination with Deworm the World, which is an initiative dedicated to supporting the scale-up of school-based deworming programmes globally.

Mr. Amarjeet Sinha, Principal Secretary of the Department of Health & Family Welfare and Mr. Anjani Kumar Singh, Principal Secretary of the Department of Human Resource Development jointly said "when there is horizontal collaboration between different government departments, an otherwise unimaginable scale of accomplishment, such as that achieved by the school-based deworming programme in Bihar, becomes possible in a very short period of time".

Mr. Rajesh Bhushan, State Project Director of Bihar Education Project Council and Secretary of Public Relations Department said "a strong three-way partnership amongst Department of Human Resource Development, Department of Health & Family Welfare and Deworm the World along with elaborate advance planning and large-scale training of education and health personnel led to the programme's success." Mr. Sanjay Kumar, Secretary of Department of Health & Family Welfare and Executive Director of State Health Society Bihar said "it is remarkable that such a technically simple intervention, as regular and systematic deworming, can have such a profound effect on the nutritional, health and education status of millions of children".

During the programme, nearly 140,000 teachers throughout Bihar were trained to deliver the medication, supported by 20,000 healthcare staff trained specifically for this programme, and "Deworming Day" and "Mop-up Day" was held in government schools throughout the state in 3 phases in February, March and April 2011 on the 7th and 11th of each month. The programme treated both enrolled and non-enrolled children between the ages of 6 and 14 through a network of over 67,000 government schools state-wide. Children who receive treatment benefit immediately – previous research shows that school participation increases and children are better able to learn in school. The State School Health Coordination Committee is actively considering implementing a second round of deworming in 2012, with the goals of continuing treatment for the millions of children already reached, and expanding the programme to include even more school-age children in Bihar.

The large scale of the Bihar programme exemplifies the success and positive impact of school-based deworming. According to Dr. Lesley Drake, Executive Director of Deworm the World, "there are very few interventions which are as safe, as cost effective and as easy to administer as deworming. For less than 25 rupees per year, a child can be free from worms and free to learn. The children of Bihar are already experiencing the benefits of treatment, and we will continue to support state governments in their efforts to ensure that millions more across India can live healthy lives and fully reap the benefits of education."

Deworm the World previously supported the Government of Andhra Pradesh to launch a school-based deworming programme and is currently in discussions with officials from key departments in the government and municipal corporation in Delhi to launch a deworming programme targeting pre-schoolers through anganwadis and school-age children through schools in the National Capital Territory. Ms. Prerna Makkar, Regional Director – South Asia of Deworm the World said "Bihar provides a model that can be rapidly scaled-up in additional states and sustained over time to improve the education, health and productivity of school-age children".

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