The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that in 2016, more than 836 million children were at risk of parasitic worm infections worldwide. This is more than 11 percent of the earth’s population, but it can be prevented. These parasitic worm infections are very easily transmitted in places of poor sanitation, often found in places of open defecation.
The two most prevalent infections, Soil-transmitted helminth (STH) and schistosomiasis, are found in populations exposed to parasitic worms and pose serious threats to both the physical and mental health as well as the overall quality of life of those infected. These diseases have been linked to cognitive dysfunction, malnutrition, anemia and impaired mental and physical development.
Though not as life-threatening, about 1.5 billion people are infected with soil-transmitted helminths (STH) worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, STHs affect the poorest, most deprived communities. Whereas with Schistosomiasis, more than 200 million people worldwide are infected, and it is the second most devastating parasitic disease. Schistosomiasis, like STHs, is often found in the poorest communities, most often in places of poor water quality and sanitation since infection can occur when skin comes in contact with contaminated water.
What can be or is being done about this?
The best way to clear those infected with these parasites is to ‘deworm’ them. This is done through an inexpensive and noninvasive method of ingesting medication orally in order to rid the body of the parasites. Yet, the cost of diagnosis is more than it costs to administer the pill to all. According to Evidence Action, to run the tests and diagnose individual people costs four to ten times the amount it costs to just administer the pill to everyone. Moreover, the medication is safe for those not infected, thus making mass deworming the easiest and most cost-effective solution.
Many deworming initiatives have been created and heavily endorsed by various nonprofits, such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Evidence Action, The World Health Organization and World Bank. Most advocate for school-based deworming initiatives because they target children and help to ensure that all are being treated. This method of treatment was unanimously endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 2001 and is ongoing today.
Many of these programs aim to work directly with governments to establish high quality deworming programs within schools. Take Evidence Action for example; in 2016, their ‘Deworm the World Initiative,’ which supports governments in India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and Nigeria, helped to treat more than 196 million children. Furthermore, thanks to the combative efforts of these nonprofits, 68 percent of children at risk were treated for parasitic worms, and this number is rising.
In short, school-based deworming initiatives are effective in ending the endemic of parasitic worm diseases in impoverished countries. There are over 835 million children in the areas where these diseases are most intensely transmitted, and all of them can be treated at an average of less than $0.50 per child. Though there is a long way to go to ensure the end of these curable diseases, improvements have been seen and will continue to be seen with the help, initiative and work from nonprofits.
– Isabella Agostini