(This story was originally reported by a journalist at Bhaskar News, Ambala, who attended one of the training workshops)
Two young school girls in Baroda city in the western state of Gujarat are catching the eye of passers-by as they walk around their neighbourhood carrying slogans to encourage the use of albendazole tablets for deworming in children.
Himani and Tanu, who are sisters, have the awareness posters pasted on their school backpacks; and also carry placards. They carry out their mission as they walk to and fro from school.
In February this year, on National Deworming Day, schools had run programmes to popularise and administer albendazole tablets for worm infestation that is common among children. But after reports that children were turning unwell, parents and teachers started resisting the deworming treatment.
The sisters’ efforts are part of a campaign started by social workers Manoj Sabharwal and Amrinder Singh to create greater awareness about the benefits of the deworming tablets and to dispel misconceptions. They decided to use students and their school bags as the vehicle of information.
India’s National Deworming Day in February this year covered 340 million children below 19 years of age. On this day a single dose of albendazole was given to each child under the age of 19 through schools and anganwadis (mother and child care centres in rural areas).
Side effects such as nausea and vomiting can manifest in the children with high worm load.
According to a government statement, India carries the highest burden of worm infestation and 64 per cent of the people under-14 years are at risk of Soil Transmitted Helminths (STH) or worms’ infestation. These interfere with nutrients uptake in children and can lead to anaemia, malnourishment and impaired mental and physical development. They also pose a serious threat to children’s education and productivity later in life.