Saving Ethiopia’s adolescents from the scourge of parasites

By Fanna Minwuyelet


Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region, Ethiopia, 23 February 2016 –Tesfatsion Alemayehu wants to be an engineer someday, but the 14-year-old girl has trouble concentrating in school. She is often dizzy and light headed and complains of a stomach ache.

Tesfatsion likely has worms.

Intestinal worms and bilharzia are rampant in Ethiopia and children suffering from these afflictions are often too sick or tired to go to school or concentrate. In the long term, the result is malnutrition, anaemia, stunting and even impaired cognitive development, all of which result in poor educational achievement.

So one day in February, Tesfatsion is standing in line at her Gurmu Koisha school where she will receive a de-worming tablet from the local health extension workers.

The tablet will take care of Tesfatsion’s worms which could be schistosomes that cause bilharzia and are carried by snails that live in fresh water. Once the worms are gone, she will be able to concentrate in school again.

Integrating Nutrition, Water and Sanitation Behaviour Change Interventions

The programme, which is funded by EU-SHARE and implemented by local authorities and UNICEF, is much more than just giving pills, however. In the shade next to where the students are lining up, trained nutrition club members are conducting games that impart key nutrition and hygiene lessons.

These activities, known as behaviour change interventions, help the students understand the benefits of the tablets and teaches helpful nutrition and hygiene practices that can minimize future parasitic infections.

For her part, Tesfatsion particularly likes the “Who am I?” game in which students learn about six common iron-rich food groups. Learning about which foods contain iron is especially valuable for young girls like Tesfatsion as they start menstruating.

Schools as gateways to behaviour change

14 years old Tesfa Tsion , 10th grade, takes medication for intestinal parasites. Gurumu Koysha primary and secondary school, Wolayta, Boloso Sore Woreda, SNNPR.
14 years old Tesfa Tsion , 10th grade, takes medication for intestinal parasites. Gurumu Koysha primary and secondary school, Wolayta, Boloso Sore Woreda, SNNPR. ©UNICEF ETHIOPIA/ 2016/ Meklit Mersha

Samson Alemayehu, the head of the health bureau at Boloso Woreda, where Tesfatsion lives, said his department is working with the schools to provide these services.

“We believe that Behaviour Change Communication interventions that take place in the schools by health and nutrition clubs play a big role in increasing awareness in the community, particularly on basic hygiene sanitation and optimal feeding,” he said.

The Health Bureau implements the program through the Health Development Army, which is present in every community and the 1-5 network, in which one person is responsible for five others.

The programme supports the integration of water and sanitation as well as nutrition education into the large scale de-worming campaign in 436 woredas across the country.

It also supports the de-worming specifically of adolescents in high schools in 86 woredas in Amhara, Oromia and SNNP regions free of charge.

“I need to attend all the classes and study hard to make my dream a reality,” said Tesfatsion.