Originally posted on usaid.gov
It’s a beautiful day in the coastal town of Lindi, Tanzania and children run to school with their plates in their hands. Students are preparing to receive medicine that will clear their bodies of schistosomiasis, a parasitic worm disease that can cause an itchy rash, abdominal pain, and other unpleasant effects.
Like many medicines that bear the instructions ‘take with food’, deworming treatments are better tolerated with a full stomach. That’s part of what makes this day special. Local officials, teachers, and parents—supported by Tanzania’s Ministries of Health and Education—work together to provide a meal for children before they receive their medicine. This partnership is a model for countries working to increase the number of children reached with essential deworming treatments.
Improving the Health of Tanzania’s Children
Also known as bilharzia, schistosomiasis is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) found in many parts of Africa, Asia, Latin American and the Caribbean. The disease affects those who must use infected freshwater for daily needs like cooking, laundry, and bathing. The impacts of schistosomiasis infection can be particularly devastating in children—without treatment, repeated exposure can hinder a child’s nutrition, growth, and overall health and development.
Since 2010, USAID has supported the Government of Tanzania to reach its NTD control and elimination goals. Through the Act to End NTDs | East program, USAID currently provides support to treat at-risk communities, measure and document progress, and strengthen the health system to deliver NTD services.
In Tanzania, every single district is endemic for schistosomiasis—with around 12 million school-aged children at risk. Like other countries around the globe, Tanzania is working to control these parasitic infections through treatment campaigns with praziquantel, a medicine that clears current infections and helps prevent the development of serious effects. For children both in and out of school, praziquantel is distributed through schools once a year or once every two years, depending on the prevalence in an area. It is very effective at treating the disease but can have short-lived side effects, including headache, dizziness, and stomach pain.
“Children with heavy worm burdens really need the treatment but are also more likely to experience mild side effects,” says Dr. Upendo Mwingira, Senior Advisor at RTI International on USAID’s Act to End NTDs | East program. “If students have eaten before receiving their medicine, they are far less likely to experience any side effects. And that means they will be more likely to take the medicine again in the future. That makes a meal prior to receiving the medicine an essential part of efforts to reach as many children as possible with deworming treatment.”