Subject: AGE: Girl, 12, Chokes To Death On Worms

The Age (Melbourne)

May 8, 2004 Saturday

Girl, 12, Chokes To Death On Worms

BYLINE: Rochelle Mutton

The worm-ridden body of a 12-year-old girl, who was suffocated by hundreds of the parasites, has alerted authorities to the spectre of worm infestations in East Timor.

Like thousands of other East Timorese children, the girl could have escaped death with the help of a 10-cent tablet.

The girl was asphyxiated when hundreds of 20 to 30-centimetre roundworms clogged her oesophagus.

It was the worst worm infestation UN forensic pathologist Dr Muhammad Nurul Islam had seen in 16 years.

He said her death was an alert for a massive incidence of worm infestations in a poverty-stricken nation with a cultural reluctance towards autopsies.

Autopsies were never conducted under Indonesian rule but have begun under the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor.

The girl died last October but the autopsy details have not previously been released.

She had not eaten for two days. The worms, seeking food, crawled from her small intestine to her stomach, up her oesophagus and into her mouth, then blocked her trachea.

"Even I can't imagine this," Dr Nurul said. "But the autopsy findings prove that this is the reality.

"In this 21st century, we have some responsibilities towards any citizen of this world suffering from hundreds and thousands of worm infestation leading to death."

In a report to the East Timorese Health Minister, Riu de Araujo, Dr Nurul said thousands of children were likely to be suffering from chronic health problems from infections of several worm species, including malnutrition, anaemia, mental dullness and stunted growth.

He said the girl's death exposed the need for an immediate nationwide program for worm prevention and cures.

Mr Araujo said tablets and instruction manuals for de-worming had been allocated to East Timor but there were no staff to run a nationwide health education program.

Foreign help to run a national worming program in primary schools would be welcomed by the East Timorese Government and non-government organisations.

A pilot program launched east of Dili, in Baucau, involved less than a dozen primary schools.

"The problem is we need more financial resources to mobilise the de-worming program in all primary schools," Health Minister Mr Araujo said.

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