Deworming medicine provided to primary schools in Laos resulted in some students being rushed to hospital yesterday after experiencing mild side effects.
Initial reports flooded social media yesterday after emergency services posted images and videos of the affected schoolchildren on their social media accounts.
According to one account, over 20 students were rushed to Mahosot Hospital and Sikhottabong Hospital. Eleven students in Champasack were also reportedly affected a day earlier.
The Ministry of Health held a press conference in Vientiane today to clarify the situation.
Director-General of the Department of Communicable Disease Control under the Ministry of Health, Dr. Lattanaxay Phetsouvanh, led the press conference.
He was accompanied by Dr. Somphou Sayasone, National Institute of Public Health, and Dr. Reiko Tsuyuoka, World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Lead for Lao PDR.
Dr. Lattanaxy said that Laos has had a school-based deworming program in place since 2005, with the distribution of deworming medicines jointly undertaken by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and Sports.
The deworming programs are implemented to ensure schoolchildren are free of parasites, ensuring healthy digestive systems and proper growth without complications.
This year, the deworming program began on 16 June across the country.
The medicine provided, Mebendazole, is a medication used to treat a number of parasitic worm infestations and is produced in Portugal. The medicine was donated by Johnson & Johnson, USA, and distributed by the WHO.
It is used in school-based deworming programs for children aged 5-14 undertaken by the WHO in 23 countries around the world, including Laos.
Side effects of Mebendazole include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and dizziness.
A total of 231 schoolchildren reported mild side effects but have since recovered.
Dr. Reiko Tsuyuoka spoke at the press conference, saying “I would like to express sympathy for children and families who got sick yesterday. I understand that they are upset and concerned. It is always upsetting to see a sick child.”
“[However] the symptoms were relatively mild,” she added, saying that the symptoms were consistent with known side effects of drugs used for many years in Lao PDR and around the world.
The WHO has agreed to temporarily suspend the deworming program while an investigation is carried out.
Analysis of the medicine provided to schools in Laos will be undertaken in a laboratory in Vietnam.