The surprising and profound effects of worms

Students commonly go barefoot, and worms are a common malady that can be introduced in other ways too.

Blog post by One School Director, Bay Roberts.

Why are millions of kids getting enough to eat but are still malnourished?
Hundreds of millions of ordinary school children around the world have something that American kids almost never get- worms. These infected children are more likely to suffer from malnutrition and anemia, resulting in students who are either too sick or too tired to concentrate in class or to attend school. This can cause lifelong harm to a child—research shows that children who remain infected earn 43% less as adults and are 13% less likely to be literate. A recent study in the Congo found that 82% of the children had worms and 70% were anemic.

The good news is that treating worm infection is as easy as administering a deworming tablet to all school-age children once or twice each year. The kids benefit immediately. Researchers at Harvard University and University of California, Berkeley have found that school-based deworming reduces school absenteeism by as much as 25%. According to Dr. Lesley Drake, Executive Director of Deworm the World (DtW), “There are very few interventions which are as safe, cost effective and as easy to administer as deworming. For less than 50 cents per year, a child can be free from worms and free to learn”. Given that here in America we willingly pay $50/year to deworm our dogs, 50 cents a year to deworm a human is a bargain!

The bottom line is that the cheapest way to increase school attendance in poor countries isn’t to build more schools, but to deworm children. Yet almost no government aid goes to deworming. Worm infection is one of those boring conditions that is easy to overlook.  This condition is so boring, in fact, that is included in the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, along with elephantiasis and trachoma.  But it is easily preventable and treatable and kills 130,000 people a year, through anemia and intestinal obstruction.  If worms, elephantiasis, and trachoma were common here in the U.S., I’m sure we would not hesitate for one second to do what was necessary to prevent and treat these illnesses.

The great news in Uganda is that the government has recognized the importance of deworming children and will pay for the pills. All a public school needs to do is call the local government health official and arrange for her/him to stop by and deliver. Once One School started to collect data at our 5 partner schools, we found that most of the schools were not receiving the pills. Why? Because they didn’t know about the program and they didn’t realize how important regular deworming was for their student’s health, attendance, and academic performance. All that was needed was a few meetings with the school board to educate them, and those phone calls were made! We have run into this situation often: there are government/NGO programs already in place that can serve the needs of impoverished Ugandan schools. The challenge is connecting the programs to the schools who need them.

Walking barefoot in the tropics to get water.

Barefoot boys playing football (soccer) at the Kyamulinga School, Uganda.