Approximately 24% of the global population, or 1.5 billion people, suffer from intestinal worms. Approximately, 835 million children in need of treatment. These worms, known as soil-transmitted helminths, are most prevalent in middle and low-income countries. Schoolchildren living in areas with high rates of intestinal worms often miss school or cannot focus due to their poor health. As a result, this negatively impacts their ability to effectively learn and thus perpetuating the cycle of disease and poverty. Consequently, treatment for these parasites (as known as deworming) is one of the top priorities in world health. Luckily, a deworming pill is cost-efficient and accessible to people.
The Fifty Cent Treatment
Widely considered the miracle drug of deworming, albendazole is incredibly cost-efficient at the low cost of 50 cents per pill. Additionally, there are no known side effects if uninfected children are treated. This means pills do not need to be administered by medical professionals, further driving down the cost of the treatment. In fact, the medication is far cheaper than testing. This makes mass treatment the most effective way to help those in areas with lots of parasites. As such, both the World Health Organization and scientific consensus encourage giving pills to large numbers of students living in hotspots twice a year.
A new analysis of this policy has shown that this treatment may have economic impacts on communities and people to a surprising degree. In the mid-1990s, Harvard researcher Michael Kremer visited Kenya and conducted a study analyzing how providing a 50 cent pill twice a year to students in extreme poverty can affect their future income. He returned to the area years later to gauge how treated children and untreated children compared in their later lives. His results were groundbreaking. According to his analysis, the pill increased the treated students’ future income by 13%. On top of this, it reduced dropout and absentee rates by a fourth (28% to 21%). In addition, it increases the number of girls able to attend high school by nearly 10%. These new findings have pushed deworming as a viable and cost-effective strategy to improve global health and global living standards.
However, the analysis of deworming policies is incredibly complex, and many scientists are doubtful of the results of the study. Most prominently, an article published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 2015 called into question the form of aid itself. The article claims that there is evidence that this type of treatment doesn’t have a substantial effect on patients. Thus, it will not economically benefit communities. This study later gained some traction among the scientific community. Additionally, the outcomes of this analysis have since been replicated. Moreover, some cite other factors as potentially causing the impressive numbers from the high temperatures at the time of the study increased the number of parasites and infected children to the fact that this is only one study.
Despite these prevailing questions and doubts about the study, the sheer inexpensive nature of the pills makes this form of aid a worthwhile effort. Despite the controversy, this pill would still be one of the most cost-effective policies to boost enrollment in schools. For many governments and organizations, that chance is worth taking. In particular, the Deworm the World Initiative partnered with many governments to provide treatment to over 280 million children in Kenya, India, Ethiopia, Nigeria and more. On top of this, the study’s findings prompted the Kenyan government to expand deworming programs to cover all elementary students in areas with high concentrations of parasites.
These studies and subsequent policy changes have provided evidence to support the impact of deworming pill on impoverished communities. Even with the scientific controversy surrounding the effectiveness of the pill, this form of aid remains one of the most cost-effective ways to help lift people out of poor conditions. In addition, it may help millions of students around the world gain an education and improve their quality of life.
– Elizabeth Lee