Programme to control children's head lice

A little girl having her nit-infested hair shaved off by parents who could not afford treatment has prompted a children's charity to start a programme to control the persistent parasite.

KidsCan Charitable Trust chief executive Julie Chapman said the charity started the Nit Busters programme after seeing a girl's head shaved because her parents could not afford nit treatment.

''When you are a little girl with long hair, it's incredibly stigmatising and impacts on their self-esteem,'' Mrs Chapman said.

Other treatments being used included dipping a child's head in kerosene, spraying their head with fly spray or using a pet flea treatment, Mrs Chapman said.

Each school selected for the programme would have a hairdresser-like chair installed and experts with nit combs and bottles of treatment to kill the nits, she said.

The first pupils selected for the programme were in low-decile schools in Hastings, Napier, Lower Hutt, Porirua and Kaitaia.

The pilot programme had received funding of nearly $1 million from the Ministry of Social Development and the second phase would be extended to schools in Christchurch, Rotorua, Taumarunui, South Hamilton, Opotiki, and South Auckland.

Mrs Chapman said schools outside the pilot programme could access combs and treatment to administer themselves but due to high demand, KidsCan had temporarily run out of treatment and combs.

KidsCan had applied for non-government funding to buy the $125,000 of products required this year to meet the needs of children outside the programme.

''It's a big problem.''

Otago Primary Principals' Association chairwoman Stephanie Madden said she had heard of parents using ''extreme measures'' to combat their child's nits.'We certainly don't encourage that.''

Nit infestations were an ongoing problem in all schools and parents had to be vigilant and regularly check their children and, when necessary, treat them, she said.

East Taieri School principal Jennifer Horgan said parents who had successfully treated their child's nit infestation were finding their child was being reinfected by untreated pupils.

''It only takes one [pupil] and then everyone gets it again. You can understand how parents who are conscientiously checking and treating are upset when they find head lice again.''

She urged all parents to check their children's hair regularly and treat if necessary. The Mosgiel non-profit organisation Altrusa had given nit treatment and combs to the school for parents to use free of charge, she said.

shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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