Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Deworming Students to improve Student Outcomes

What if you could improve health and learning outcomes of children around the world for less than half a dollar a year? 

Deworming is one way this is possible. 

More than 33% of the world population suffers from worm infection. It is commonly found among children. Deworming is a safe and inexpensive way of getting rid of this infection. It is a simple procedure which involves giving the children two single dose tablets. Deworming targets diseases caused by parasitic worms. These worms live in the human gut and absorb key nutrients (including iron). It can also lead to other diseases like anaemia. 

Worm infections might not have immediate acute consequences but in the long run they do a lot of damage. Studies done in Kenya and South America confirmed that children with worm infections perform poorly in learning ability tests. Its effect on attendance is even more significant. It has been seen that some infected children attend only half as many days of school as their unaffected classmates. Deworming can benefit children's learning, substantially increase primary school attendance and significantly increase a child's ability to learn in school. In a study by Kevin Croke of the Harvard School of Public Health tracked children for 7-8 years after a mass deworming program. He found that keeping all the other variables the same, dewormed children had higher test scores in literacy and numeracy than the non-treated children. He concluded that the difference in outcome was because of the deworming and not because of any other variable. 

The good thing about deworming is that the medication, if given to students who don’t have worm infection, has no harmful effects. It means that we can do a deworming drive in a large area or maybe say a school, without having to test each and every child for the disease first. 

In a country like India where sanitation is still a major issue and more than half the country’s population defecates in the open, infections like these are very common. We cannot let easily preventable diseases slow down the development of our children. Especially when the solution is both accessible and inexpensive. 

Deworming is not just simple, it is also very inexpensive. At less than half a dollar per kid per year, it is probably one of the most economically viable medicine that we know as of now. This half a dollar includes the cost of procuring the medicines, distributing them and training given to the volunteers in its administration. According to World Health Organisation, children in high risk areas should be dewormed once every six months!

 In fact, the World Health Organisation encourages schools to take this up as a school wide process. It has created a step by step guide which explains how schools should go about the entire procedure of deworming. Poverty Action Lab has been doing mass deworming in schools and have dewormed more than 90 million children. You can find their report here

There are a lot of organisations, both government and non-government, which are working towards improving health and sanitation situations in India. Maybe deworming is something that can be done easily and effectively by them. Ofcourse, like any medicine or solution, deworming comes with its own set of critics. So it can’t be called a universally accepted solution as of yet.  But as of now, a lot of people are calling it a ‘best buy’ for improving both education and health. 


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