Azerbaijan, Baku / corr Trend E.Huseynli / Working together, the United Nations World Food Programme, Azerbaijan's Ministry of Health and the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation (VRF) have successfully completed a de-worming campaign that has significantly reduced worm infections amongst thousands of primary school children in Azerbaijan.
As a result, 16,000 children from 6-11 years old have been treated at school for intestinal parasites, which is common amongst a large percentage of the Azerbaijani children due to poor hygiene and a lack of awareness. Infections are particularly rampant amongst children aged 5 -14 years and if not treated can lead to reduced growth rates, learning problems and illnesses such as malnutrition, dysentery and anemia.
The prevalence of worm infections, which was as high as 31% in 2005, has been significantly reduced over the past two years to only 3.2% in 2007. The treatment was accompanied by raising self-awareness amongst children, teachers and communities, as well as capacity building among medical staff.
Launched in December 2006, the campaign aimed to improve the health and intellectual development of the country's most impoverished children, many of them internally displaced.
A high prevalence of intestinal parasitic infection, which affects two billion people worldwide, is closely linked to poor living conditions, namely lack of safe water; contamination of the environment by human excreta; lack of shoes and poor hygiene, all of which affect the nutritional wellbeing of children.
Fortunately, worms can be eradicated with onlyone treatment of Mebendazole, a medication, which according to the World Health Organization is harmless to children. The treatment of 32,000 tablets for this year's campaign was provided by the VRF.
Founded in 1991 by renowned cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, who passed away only last month, and his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, the acclaimed soprano, VRF aims to improve the health care of children in countries that once made up the former Soviet Union.