Tackling taboos to put children back into the classroom

Publicado: 14 diciembre 2011 14:14 CET

by Faye Callaghan

Education is one of the most important factors in helping a community develop. But many children in Nigeria miss school or find it hard to concentrate because of the little talked of illnesses caused by worms. The Nigerian Red Cross Society set out to de-worm thousands of children and get them back into the classroom.

According to the World Health Organisation, nearly two billion people are infected with worms through contamination from soil or water, and children are particularly susceptible. The cure, however, is cheap and simple: a de-worming tablet taken regularly. The Mushin division of the Nigerian Red Cross Society targeted 84 primary schools and provided tablets to over 22,000 children. The exercise also told children how important it was to take the tablets regularly, at least every six months.

“An exercise like this in schools once or twice a year such should be sustained, along with a means of monitoring and evaluating its impact,” said Adebola Folawewo, Chairman of the organization’s Mushin division. He added that the government should consider making de-worming promotion a part of their plan for schools’ health programmes, and increase awareness through community health campaigns and follow up programmes.

Children who suffer from illnesses caused by worms often attain lower grades at school because of missed classes and also have impaired growth. In schools that undertake regular de-worming programmes, absenteeism has been reduced by a quarter.  The treatment of worms is safe and effective, and the tablets cost less than diagnosing an infection.

Thirty five Red Cross volunteers reached 84 schools across four days. As they conducted the exercise they also conducted a survey which showed that that only 3 out of 10 people had good knowledge on the importance of de-worming and only 3 per cent of children had taken a de-worming medication within the last six months.
To ensure a high level of confidence among school administrators, the volunteers used gloves and disposable cups. Additionally, the programme was run at no cost to the school or pupils, making participation attractive. The Nigerian Red Cross Society worked with corporate partners including Coca-Cola, Neimeth Pharmaceuticals and Phillips Pharmaceuticals to run the exercise at minimal cost to the organization.