A professor at The Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) is beginning an intensive program in Ethiopia this August to eradicate intestinal worms which affect as much as 50 percent of the population in Africa.
BGU Professor Zvi Bentwich, who heads the Center for Tropical Diseases and AIDS in Israel (CEMTA), believes there is a possible connection between the AIDS epidemic in Africa and intestinal worms, one of the many Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) which affect nearly one quarter of the world's population.
Prof. Bentwich believes that intestinal worms can affect the immune system in such a profound way that it has a major impact on one's susceptibility to HIV and tuberculosis, and in coping with these diseases when they are already there. "As head of the largest AIDS center, I dealt with a large number of Ethiopian HIV and AIDS patients, and through them became aware of the magnitude of this problem in Ethiopia," he says.
The first stage of the operation to deworm about 30,000 people from three separate locations in Ethiopia begins in August. In the fall, the research project will focus on the town of Mekele in northern Ethiopia with approximately 250,000 inhabitants.
The program combines the provision and administration of antihelminthic medications, a few pills every four to six months, with hygiene education and information on how to protect populations from exposure to the parasites.
"NTDs are one of the most evident hallmark signs of poverty and neglect, significantly contributing to the persistence of this situation in a very large number of countries in Africa, Asia and South America," Bentwich explains. "They have been largely neglected by the Western developed countries, since they are practically nonexistent there. "It costs much less than what it takes to fight the more recognized epidemics like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria."
BGU is partnering with Global Network for the Fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases to help populations across Africa, including Ethiopia. The project is being funded by an international coalition of nonprofit organizations.
Materials provided by American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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