At least 1.5 billion people are currently at risk of parasitic intestinal worms, the World Health Organisation said on Saturday.

The risk is that your body is not able to absorb nutrients in food when these parasitic worms are present in the intestine.

Four main species of intestinal worms (also known as soil-transmitted helminths) affect almost a quarter of the world’s poorest and mostly marginalised people, a statement by the world body said.

It is recommending periodic deworming programmes, with a single-tablet treatment.

The WHO believes this can drastically reduce the suffering of those infected.

It impedes the growth and physical development of millions of children.

The WHO has long promoted large-scale treatment for intestinal worms, but this is the first guideline approved by WHO’s Guidelines Review Committee confirming that deworming improves the health and nutrient uptake of heavily infected children.

“There is now global evidence-based consensus that periodic, large-scale deworming is the best way to reduce the suffering caused by intestinal worms,” says Dr Dirk Engels, Director of WHO’s Neglected Tropical Diseases Department.

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“These new guidelines have been issued at a time when countries where intestinal worms are endemic are accelerating control programmes with the help of partners – to both treat people who are infected and those at risk of infection,” WHO's statement read.

Large-scale deworming programmes are facilitated by WHO, using medicines donated by pharmaceutical companies. WHO coordinates shipment of these medicines to countries requesting them. They are then distributed freely by national disease control programmes during mass treatment campaigns.

”Providing medicines to populations at risk reduces the intensity of intestinal helminth infections,” said Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development," .

The head of WHO’s global deworming programme, Dr Antonio Montresor, said the world body "aims to eliminate the harm caused by worm infections in children by 2020 by regularly treating at least 75% of the estimated 873 million children in areas where prevalence is high”.

The world body, however, stressed that deworming is not the only solution.

“Improving basic hygiene, sanitation, health education and providing access to safe drinking-water are also keys to resolving the health and nutritional problems caused by intestinal worms,” Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development said.