In Kenya’s Rift Valley, worm infestation is a major problem, especially among children who are forced to drink contaminated water. Local health clinics whose shelves might otherwise be empty receive regular supplies of critical medications from World Vision.
The problem of worm infections has long stalked parts of Kenya’s Rift Valley, leading to malnutrition, mostly among children.
Especially since the onset of the historic drought and food crisis across the Horn of Africa, this area houses a sizeable nomadic population that has moved with their cattle in search of water. Now, they face the threat of worm diseases due to drinking from unsafe sources.
But thanks in part to World Vision distributions of medication, the region is now witnessing a reduction in malnutrition levels.
“We received cartons of dewormers, and we have been deworming children who come to the center every three months,” says Michael Muya, a public health officer at Oljoorai Health Center, a facility serving a population of about 15,000.
At 4 years old, his head covered with a rash, Duncan looked frail as he visited the health center with his mother, Margaret. In addition to the rash, which had persisted for months, the boy was suffering from diarrhea.
Duncan was treated and given deworming tablets that would last him for three months, as well as a cream to apply on the rash.
“I am very grateful for the drugs; I have hope that my child will get better soon,” says Margaret. “He has been unwell for a while; besides the rash, he has had no appetite, and [he] complains of pain in the abdomen.”
Muya says that symptoms of worm infection may include loss of appetite, distended or painful abdomen, coughing, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue.
The worms cause malnutrition, either because they result in loss of appetite, or because they prevent food from being absorbed properly once it has been eaten.
Worms may also contribute to anemia. Children with chronic worm infections are, in most cases, stunted and underweight. The children become too sick or too tired to concentrate in class or even attend school.
It is feared that chronic infections can lead to long-term retardation of mental and physical development, and in very severe infections, even death.
Thus, World Vision’s distributions of medications are welcome in the face of crippling drug shortages often experienced in Kenya’s public health facilities.
“Before World Vision started supporting us, the government used to supply us with the drugs, but they were hardly enough,” Muya recalls. “The drugs would run out within three months, and it would take many more months before replenishing the stocks.”
Now, with a steady supply of medications at the health center, malnutrition levels are on the decline. Previously, the hospital, which attends to nearly 200 patients a month, would receive more than 50 cases of worms and malnutrition, mostly among children.
But between August and September of last year, there was just one recorded case of worm infestation, and less than 10 malnutrition cases.
“At first, we started by deworming children alone, [but] then realized that if mothers were left out, especially the pregnant ones, they would pass on worms to their unborn children,” says Muya. “Now, we are deworming mothers as well as other family members.”
The facility also conducts village outreaches, where health workers go into the community to ensure that all children are immunized and treated for worms. The workers are also visiting schools and carrying out deworming services there to ensure that children can continue with their education, free of illness.
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