Why deworm in schools?
School-age children typically have the highest intensity of worm infection of any age group. In addition, the most cost-effective way to deliver deworming pills regularly to children is through schools because schools offer a readily available, extensive and sustained infrastructure with a skilled workforce that is in close contact with the community.
1. Deworming contributes to Education for All
Studies in low-income
countries of Africa, South America and Asia
confirm that children with intense worm infections perform poorly in learning
ability tests, cognitive function and
Deworming is an exceptionally low cost intervention. Operational research in Ghana and Tanzania has demonstrated that for the first five years of intervention, the average yearly cost of delivered treatment – taking into account current drug prices – is typically less than US $0.50 per child in an area where both schistosomiasis and the common intestinal worms are present, and less than US $0.25 per child in an area where only the latter are present.
2. Deworming gives a high return to education and labour income
A randomized evaluation of school-based mass deworming for schistosomiasis and intestinal worms in Kenya found that absenteeism was reduced by one-quarter. Deworming was the most cost-effective method of improving school participation among a series of educational interventions. An extra year of primary schooling was gained for an investment of US $4 in deworming, as compared to US $38 to US $99 for other interventions.4 The Rockefeller hookworm control program early in the 20th century in the Southern USA achieved a similar reduction in absenteeism (23%) and long-run effects on labour income suggest the benefit of a hookworm-free childhood to be around 45% of adult wages. Deworming is therefore an efficient investment in human capital.
3. Deworming has major externalities for untreated children and the whole community
By reducing the transmission of infection in the community as a whole, deworming substantially improves health and school participation for both treated and untreated children, in treatment schools and in neighbouring schools. As a result, treating only school age children can reduce the total burden of disease due to intestinal worm infections by 70% in the community as a whole.7 These externalities are large enough to justify fully subsidizing treatment. They also explain why deworming is beneficial even without improvements in sanitation.
4. Deworming targets one of the most common, long-term infections of children in low-income countries
For girls and boys aged 5 to 14 years in low-income countries, intestinal worms account for an estimated 11 and 12 percent, respectively, of the total disease burden, and represent the single largest contributor to the disease burden of this group. An estimated 20 percent of disability adjusted life years lost because of communicable disease among school children is a direct result of intestinal worms.