In this post truth era, where objective facts are misrepresented and made more appealing to emotions, and personal beliefs shape one’s opinion, I know I belong to the feeble voiced, when I am stressing on the importance of health education. I know the odds stacked against this task, but I will endeavour to raise it to the point where we could tip the scale and overcome this challenge.

In this final part of the Helminth-related series, let me try to bring in a sense of closure to this “Helminths and its infections” discussion. I will attempt to clear the fog in our minds and fight back the untruths and exaggerations about Helminths-related illnesses.

From the earlier blogs (Everything you need to know about Helminths – Well, almost everything, Helminths-related infections and Open Defecation – It is obvious!) I believe that we have to come to understand the transmission dynamics of the Helminth worms and eggs in our environment, and the various kinds of infections (gut, skin etc.) that it causes. The burden, due to poor sanitation and open defecation, on children is manifested as soil or water transmitted infections. In order to prevent recurring illnesses and develop mitigation measures, serious discussion is pertinent about the need for a sound health education programme catering to all sections of society.

One of the key strategy for controlling Helminth-related infections is carrying out periodic deworming among pre-schoolers, toddlers and children. The WHO recommended that medicines such as albendazole (400 mg) and mebendazole (500 mg) are reported to be effective, inexpensive and easy to administer by non-medical personnel (Eg: teachers). These antihelminthic medications are administered by the National Ministries of Health in many countries, for treatment of all children in the school-going age group. Though, this regular treatment for high-risk groups (i.e. children) is based on epidemiological surveillance and will yield benefits in the long run, let us also keep in mind the potential threat of drug resistance. Anyway, there is an urgent need to develop a multi-disease fighting approach that goes beyond just deworming, and health educators must ensure that it works towards controlling Helminths transmission and preventing recurrent illnesses.

Proper guidance on safe and hygienic handling of human faeces, wearing shoes in areas that have been designated for defecation and also while accessing public/community toilets, personal hygiene and sanitation behaviours, especially whilst using community swimming pools, safe sanitation practices including hand washing with soap, consumption of boiled water and properly cooked food etc. are some of the measures that would be effective in controlling Helminths transmission.

Long-term solutions like improving the quality of water supply, promoting safe sanitation and sustainable hygiene strategies and practices are key to the elimination of helminth infections. It is important to remember that children can be treated for helminths, but unless their living environments are secured from infection, there is a high chance of them being infected again and again. Improvements to WASH resulting in better quality of life, complemented by appropriate health education, is essential for achieving sustained control of helminths in the medium and long term.

Positive correlation between sound health education and supportive healthcare resulting in improved quality of life is evident. But to get this message through and make it a reality is indeed a difficult challenge. So are you up for the challenge or do you need more convincing? What does your gut feeling tell you? !!

Suneethi Sundar

Specialist, TNUSSP