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Photograph: Photo by Jaskirat Singh Bawa, used under CC BY-SA

India on Wednesday carried out the world's largest deworming campaign on 270 million children, a drive aiming to prevent parasitic worm infections that can impair mental and physical development.

Children between one and 19 years of age were administered anti-worm tablets by health-workers and teachers at child-care centres, kindergartens and schools in the nationwide drive, health ministry spokeswoman Manisha Verma said.

The children who missed out on Wednesday will receive the dose on Monday, she added.

India began the programme last year, when nearly 90 million children were given the tablets in 277 districts.

The initiative was scaled up for 2016 to cover a "massive target" of 270 million children across 536 districts, health minister JP Nadda said, making it the world's largest public health programme.

India has the highest burden of parasitic worms in the world, according to the government.

Parasitic worms in children interfere with nutrient uptake, and can contribute to anaemia, malnourishment and impaired mental and physical development.

According to a 2012 government report, almost half of children under five were too short for their age, indicating malnourishment, and just under 20 per cent were extremely underweight in relation to their height.

Parasitic infections can be caused by unclean drinking water and a lack of sanitation and hygiene.

The nationwide drive aims to raise awareness and children will be schooled on the importance of hygiene practices, such as washing hands before meals.

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