Three pills a year, at a cost of 15 cents, can dramatically reduce blood loss and prevent anemia in the 400 million school-aged children around the world who are infected with intestinal worms.
That is the conclusion of a study by a team from Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health of Tanzania. The study found that giving 500 milligrams of the anti-parasitic drug mebendazole three times a year prevented the loss of almost a quarter-liter of blood per child. In a study of 3,600 children on Pemba Island, one of the islands of Zanzibar, severe anemia was 40 percent less common in a group treated with mebendazole than in a group of children who didn’t get the drug.
Intestinal worms - roundworms, whipworms or hookworms - affect about 1.4 billion people worldwide, including at least 40 percent of children. In Zanzibar and other areas of the developing world, blood loss caused by worms often leads to iron-deficiency anemia, which can impair overall health and retard growth.
“Regular deworming is an effective, cheap and sustainable tool,” said WHO parasitologist Lorenzo Savioli. He recommended that the use of mebendazole should be added to other simple, inexpensive measures, such as micronutrient supplements, that have been found to improve children’s health.