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New study finds loopholes in previous research on mass deworming(downtoearth)

One of the earlier studies done on mass deworming programme across schools in Kenya in early 2000 showed that children got rid of worm infections and as a result of this there was an increase in school participation Credit: CDC Global/Flickr

A new study led by Paul Garner from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine finds out flaws in previous studies done on mass deworming, as a means to improve the health of children living in African countries.

Earlier research claimed long-term benefits of mass deworming programmes in children, but the recent study done by Garner and his colleagues says that the findings are unlikely to be as positive as previously reported.

Intestinal infections

Millions of children living in poorest countries of the world are infected with intestinal worms. This can damage their appetite and cause anaemia. For several years, parasitologists, economists and development specialists showed faith in mass drug administration for tackling infections caused by worms. The aim was to eliminate worms and improve children’s health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children from middle-and low-income countries rely on mass deworming as a means to get rid of Helminths, a parasitic worm. Children living in unhealthy sanitary regions easily get Helminthiasis infection. Besides anaemia and loss of appetite, it also results in stunted growth.

Mass deworming of school children is practised by countries that cannot afford expensive diagnosis, previous studies say, and there are limited side effects. Several studies in favour of mass deworming show that treatment gives children an edge over those left untreated.

Mass deworming

One of the earlier studies done on mass deworming programme across schools in Kenya in early 2000 showed that children got rid of worm infections and as a result of this there was an increase in school participation.

Another study done in 2012 started a much-heated debate on the efficacy of mass deworming as opposed to deworming administered only to infected individuals. It did see benefits in infected children while no substantial increase was registered in health or cognition in normal students.

Following this, three separate papers authored by Kevin Croke, Sarah Baird and Owen Ozier came out, which criticised the 2012 Cochrane study.

New theory

Garner and his team have pointed out the flaws in the three abovementioned studies by Croke, Baird and Ozier saying that Baird’s study did selective reporting. In the study, significant outcomes were included while non-significant results omitted, he said.

Regarding Ozier’s study, Garner says that it is full of inconsistencies and that higher scores reported in Maths and English as reported in the study are only due to chance. Garner argues that Croke’s results cannot be taken into account as there is a difference between groups based on withdrawal of participants, also called the attrition bias. This bias leads to incomplete data outcome.

Mass deworming in India

It is reported that more than 241 million children aged between 1 and 14 are prone to soil-transmitted helminths infection in India, the health ministry information says.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched National Deworming Day (NDD) in 11 states in 2015, where children aged between 1-19 are administered deworming drugs. NDD is held on February 10 every year. A study carried out in Vellore and Thiruvanamalai in 2014 showed the prevalence of this infection reduced to 7.8 per cent from 60 per cent reported 10 years ago. Authors suggest that this could be in part due to the mass deworming initiative carried out in between 2002-2003.

NDD is one of the largest deworming campaigns in the world. Experts believe that improving sanitation can also help tackle worm infections in children.

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