Controlling neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is an important part of improving nutrition. Diseases such as schistosomiasis and intestinal worms are underlying causes of stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies. At the same time, poor nutrition increases susceptibility to NTD infection. The combination of NTD infections and malnutrition perpetuate a cycle of disease, malnutrition and poverty.
Roundworm (ascariasis) are among the most prevalent intestinal worm infections in young children and have serious consequences for child health and development, including cognitive delays. Roundworms compete with children for nutrients in order to grow and as a result, children living with these worms absorb less Vitamin A, even after they take oral supplementation.
Hookworm and schistosomiasis are among the leading causes of anemia worldwide because of the role they play in contributing to the loss of blood and iron. Pregnant women especially need iron and nutrients during pregnancy to ensure their babies have proper nutrition from the start. Hookworm exacerbates the loss of iron during pregnancy, increasing the likelihood of delivering a low birthweight newborn, putting newborns at a disadvantage from the start of life.
Roundworm, hookworm and whipworm affect 870 million children worldwide, while schistosomiasis affects 240 million children.
Because NTDs can impact nutritional status at any point of life — including during pregnancy, childhood and adulthood — populations living in endemic areas should receive routine deworming treatment.
Several studies have shown that combining deworming with other nutritional improvement programs – such as Vitamin A and iron supplementation – can lead to better outcomes than providing supplements alone.
In response, a number of multilateral organizations, governments, NGOs and endemic countries are implementing programs that deliver deworming for intestinal worms and schistosomiasis alongside other nutrition and health interventions:
1. The United Nations World Food Programme has incorporated deworming into its school-based feeding programs in countries around the world. For those infected with schistosomiasis, treatment will also reduce anemia and improve nutritional status.
2. The 2012 Copenhagen Consensus – a project intended to set priorities for improvements in global welfare – includes deworming as a “best buy” in public health when included as part of a comprehensive approach to food security. The project’s team of leading economists found malnutrition to be the single most important area for investment and argued for bundling interventions, including treatment for intestinal worms, in order to provide a greater return on this investment.
3. To advance its commitment to maternal and child health, the Canadian government has supported expanded health and nutrition programs, which incorporates micronutrient supplementation, deworming and screening for acute malnutrition. In Ethiopia, their support provided 1.5 million children under the age of 5 with Vitamin A supplementation and deworming treatments during Community Health Days.
For more information on the impact of deworming on nutrition, see the key resources below:
- Global Network Factsheet: Nutrition and Food Security
- Press Release: Global Partners are Taking Neglect out of Neglected Tropical Diseases
- Journal articles: Childhood Malnutrition and Parasitic Helminth Interactions, May 2014, Clinical Infectious Diseases
- Blog posts:
- Acute Malnutrition: An Everyday Emergency, Sabrina de Souza, Nutrition Advocacy Coordinator at RESULTS UK
- Maharashtra’s Child Stunting Declines: What is Driving Them? Findings of a Multidisciplinary Analysis, August 2014, Institute of Development Studies
- Nutrition and health: The opportunity cost of opportunities lost, Joel Spicer
- Read more about the 2012: Copenhagen Consensus outcomes, which rank deworming of school children 4th out of 16 cost effective investments for policymakers.
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