Increasing Access to Child Health Through
Full Story:In rural Liberia, 75% of people do not have access to adequate sanitation and 40% do not have access to safe water source (UNICEF). These deficiencies especially affect children, many of whom have no choice but to play in areas contaminated by human waste, where many contract intestinal worms that can cause blood loss, painful and bloated stomachs, and loss of appetite. Lack of access to health facilities means that many children suffer without treatment, but in November 2008, Africare-Liberia’s USAID-funded Improved Community Health Project partnered with Liberia’s Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW) to deliver treatment and prevention services for intestinal parasites to children in the schools of Nimba and Bong Counties.
“Children have a tendency to play in the dirt and put things in their mouths, and some of them grow worm problems in their stomachs,” explains a Liberian nurse from the ICHP. In fact, children in poor environments often carry up to as many as 1000 different parasites at a time (UNICEF), and roughly 10% of the developing world suffers from intestinal worms (WHO). Intestinal parasites are largely treatable and preventable with a medication called mebendazole, but poor road conditions and long distances mean that many families cannot access health facilities to get this medication.
When Africare found itself with a large stock of mebendazole in late 2008, it contacted the MOE’s School Health Department to investigate ways of distributing this important drug. While the ICHP supports 31 health clinics in Bong and Nimba Counties, the need for a large-scale public health campaign led the inter-sectoral team to look to primary schools, a reliable means for reaching the majority of the youth population since Liberia made primary school compulsory and free of charge in April of 2006.
Two de-worming teams of Africare and MOE employees were assembled to attend 100 schools in Bong and 96 schools in Nimba to administer the medication over the course of a week. Roughly 46,000 students ages six to fifteen were reached with the de-worming medication, providing treatment for and prevention of intestinal worms to children county-wide. The campaign was accompanied by behavior change communication messages from the MOHSW urging children to wash their hands after playing in the dirt, using the toilet, and farming and encouraging consumption of safe drinking water and proper waste disposal. The MOSHW also provided school with water jugs to store clean water for the students to drink.
As children lined up to receive their medication, the principal of one school in Nimba County expressed his pleasure with the campaign, saying, “Seeing this campaign going on today makes my heart really joyful; our children are going to be safe from most of the illnesses associated with worms.” Illness caused by intestinal parasites can affect children’s mental and physical development, as well as their performance and attendance in schools; ICHP and MOE’s de-worming campaign shows that joining forces across sectors can improve the lives and futures of children in multiple ways.
The Improved Community Health Project and the Rebuilding Basic Health Services in Liberia Bridging Project are implemented by Africare/Liberia in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs. This activity is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 120 countries worldwide.