Every year, thousands of people get sick from the food they eat. Some of these people die. Those who don’t die develop long-term health problems.
“Most of these problems are caused by parasites, mostly worms, which get into our mouths through unclean water, unsafe food or dirty hands,” said Joseph Katabarwa, the Head of Environmental Health at the Ministry of Health.
Parasites are any organism that benefit from living in or on another organism (the host) at a cost. The cost may be anything from using small amounts of the host’s food to causing a fatal illness.
How do worms move?
Experts say that most of the intestinal parasites need something or someone to move them around.
“Our hands are one of the main ways these parasites are moved from one place to another,” Katabarwa says.
He said children playing on the ground can pick up germs from the soil and put them in their mouths. Or a person who has touched a dirty toilet door can pass those germs to someone else when they shake hands.
Parasites like warmth and dampness, and so will increase rapidly in hot, humid weather, or if they are in warm, wet places. Certain foods such as poultry, meat, seafood, milk, and eggs help germs multiply quickly.
Several types of parasitic worms can live in human intestines, the most common being tapeworms, hookworms, and roundworms among others.
“When worms multiply in our bodies they cause intestinal linings that result in the poor absorption of nutrients,” he added.
Signs of worms include diarrhea, hunger pangs, appetite loss, weight loss, and anemia.
How do we become infested?
Because we live in an ever-stressful environment, where disease is omnipresent, it is important to take responsibility for our own health. The cost of harboring parasites in terms of human misery and economic loss is incalculable.
Parasites are also a major cause of death and reduced reproductive success among domesticated animals and crops.
Amoeba and its effects
Mebiasis is a parasitic infection caused by amoeba known as entamoeba Histolytica. This amoeba can usually stay in our bodies for long periods of time without causing any harm. However, the parasite has the potential to be lethal, especially if not treated immediately.
“Parasitic worm infections are very common in low-income countries such as Rwanda,” said Katabarwa.
The signs include stomach pain and stomach cramping. A severe form is amebic dysentery that is associated with stomach pain, fever, and bloody stools. In worse cases, it can spread to other parts of the body, including the brain and lungs.
Infection with worms has a dramatic effect on anemia and growth in many developing countries. In Rwanda, people infected with worms are more likely to be underweight.
Rwanda spends about Rwf5billion on de-worming campaigns twice a year.
“We believe that sustainable efforts to de-worm young people must continue in order to offer a worm-free generation whose physical and cognitive development can be strong so that economic development of the country can continue,” he said.
“A big number of Rwandans have worms and yet are totally unaware of it,” he added.