Brazzaville, Congo: 25 October 2012 – As the Sahel food crisis persists, compounded by recent flooding in the region, the World Health Organization (WHO) has appealed to health and development partners to support affected countries prioritize deworming activities as part of urgent relief efforts.

WHO African Regional Director Dr Luis Gomes Sambo
Dr Luis Gomes Sambo

"Flooding now being experienced in parts of the Sahel, creates the ideal breeding ground for contracting Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) such as bilharzia, and worm-like diseases putting more at risk of malnutrition," says WHO African Regional Director Dr Luis Gomes Sambo.

"Humanitarian actors should come out in full force and support de-worming activities in affected countries as malnourished children and adults are very susceptible to contracting these NTDs, transmitted via contaminated water, soil and parasites.

Prolonged drought and internal conflict have caused critical hunger in the Sahel region of West Africa which spans Senegal, Mauritania , Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Nearly 19 million people are food insecure and more than one million children under the age five years are severely malnourished.

Low quality drinking water supply and inadequate latrine coverage combined with flooding in the affected countries increases the risk of NTDs such as bilharzia (Schistosomiasis) and roundworms, hookworms and whipworms (Soil-Transmitted Helminthiases). Within this crisis school-aged children are the most at risk, suffering from the highest burdens of parasitic NTDs infections and malnutrition.

Integrating school health and nutrition programmes which encompass school feeding, WASH, and deworming activities are highly effective in supporting at risk children.In itself, school-based deworming - costing less than 50 cents to treat a person for a year, is one of the safest and most cost-effective measures that can be taken now to save lives and stem a worsening nutritional crisis. Implementing deworming interventions will ensure that food aid provided, through interventions such as school feeding will nourish people rather than worms.

Further Information - Open source worm prevalence maps for Africa, Asia, and South America. Downloadable maps showing where the worms are, the predictive risk and control planning measures required. Deworming documents and resource centre on WHO's NTD website