The Noble Prize in Economics went this year to a team of three researchers who investigated ways to alleviate poverty among the poorest populations. Their research, focusing heavily on education and health issues, pinpointed deworming school children as a cost-effective method to improve health and welfare. Deworming allows them to attend school, gain an education and break out of the cycle of poverty.
Why should we care about treating intestinal worms, a seemingly obscure issue among problems in the modern world? Here’s why - more than 1.5 billion people are infected with parasitic worms worldwide. This includes 267 million preschool-age children, and over 568 million school-age children that live in areas where these parasites are intensively transmitted, primarily due to conditions of poverty. These parasites can cause pain, organ failure, mental and physical growth impairment, and death.
Dr. Michael Kremer from Harvard, one of the three recipients, conducted field work in Kenya. He demonstrated that treating children regularly with deworming tablets benefited their health and improved school performance and education. His research tracked more than 30,000 students at 75 elementary schools in western Kenya during a school-based deworming program. They found that those who had been treated were healthier and more likely to attend classes than their peers in schools that were not part of the deworming effort. They continued to follow the same participants, now adults in their early 30s, and found that their earnings and living standards are up to 10 percent higher than those who had not been dewormed. Kremer strongly advocates for mass drug distribution to areas where the parasitic worms are prevalent.
At NALA, we take this one step further. Our community based programs in Ethiopia disperse health education through schools, religious institutions and the Women's Development Army (WDA), a volunteer healthcare corps. As we know that these parasites are detrimental to the livelihood of people living in poverty, we aim for prevention, or if this is not possible, avoiding reinfection of those who have received medical treatment.
NALA arms teachers with the tools to carry out effective interventions to instill behavioral changes that will help protect them from parasites – habits as simple as washing hands with soap after defecating, and using latrines. NALA’s advocacy agenda brings together health, education and WASH officials to ensure that clean water reaches areas where disease prevalence in highest. Working with the Ethiopian Ministries of Health and Education from the federal down to the local level, along with our partners, Sightsavers International, Merck and the Joint Distribution Committee we are making a difference for those striving to build a better life for themselves, their families and communities. Our goal is healthy children, attending school, furthering their education and allowing them a chance to fulfil their dreams and goals.
For more on the Nobel Prize winners, I recommend this TED talk.
Esther Duflo in a TED talk about her research: Social Experiments to Fight Poverty.