20 October 2010Millions of Afghan children will be protected against malnutrition, retarded growth and development and poor learning ability under a United Nations-backed de-worming campaign launched in schools across the country today. The Education and Health Ministries, supported by the UN World Health Organization (WHO), UN World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), plan to reach every school-going child with a single 500 milligramme tablet of Mebendazole, consumed simply by chewing or swallowing with a glass of water.The tablets will be administered through Education Ministry outreach workers and complemented by health and hygiene education programmes in schools.Data shows that 60 per cent of Afghan children are infected by intestinal parasites, which consume as much as 25 per cent of what an infected child ingests, causing frequent school absenteeism and even death. Worm infections are common in children with poor hygiene practices and are transmitted through the mouth by eating with dirty hands or ingesting contaminated food and water, and through skin contact with soil contaminated by faeces containing worms or worm eggs. Children who are worm-free are more active, perform better in school, and are more resistant to other diseases. Worm infections can be prevented by improving personal hygiene, practicing proper hand washing, especially after defecating, and before preparing or eating food, cooking meat thoroughly, and keeping food, water supplies and toilets clean. Deworming drugs like Mebendazole are one of the cheapest and most effective public health interventions.Earlier this month another UN-backed initiative targeted 8 million Afghan children for vaccination against polio, and for the first included a de-worming campaign aimed at reaching some 4.6 million youngsters aged between two and five.