Thursday, May 19, 2011

Deworming African Children....effective, inexpensive 'foreign aid'

By Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, May 18, 2011
Prof. Michael Kremer, a Harvard economist, helped pioneer randomized trials in antipoverty work. In the 1990s, Kremer began studying how to improve education in Africa, trying different approaches in randomly selected batches of schools.

One intervention he tried was deworming kids — and bingo! In much of the developing world, most kids have intestinal worms, leaving them sick, anemic and more likely to miss school. Deworming is very cheap (a pill costing a few pennies), and, in the experiment he did with Edward Miguel, it resulted in 25 percent less absenteeism. Even years later, the kids who had been randomly chosen to be dewormed were earning more money than other kids.
Kremer estimates that the cost of keeping a kid in school for an additional year by building schools or by subsidizing school uniforms is more than $100, while by deworming kids, the cost drops to $3.50. (In a pinch, kids can usually go to “school” in a church or mosque without a uniform.)
It seems fairly obvious that if an organization like Rotary International can eradicate polio from the planet, they are one organization that could mount the fund-raising and the distribution network that could see the African continent's children free of intensinal worms, and not only would those healed kids more likely attend school, but they would more likely do it with absenteeism, and with considerably more academic success.
Where is the partnership between "first world" goverments, NGO's and African governments that can and will take on this project on a scale that could be termed successful, when completed.
It certainly does not have the kind of sex appeal that building schools has; it does not have a "first world" reference point with which philanthropists can identify, and therefore understand, in some subjective manner.
It certainly sounds more like a program for animals, pets, administered by veterarians, than it does like a program for human children.
Nevertheless, deworming children in Africa works, and this is one observer who is ready and willing to lend a hand to the cause, if appropriate partners come forward.
From the Innovations for Poverty Action website
The Challenge

Parasitic worms harm children's health and development and limit their participation in school.
Over 400 million school-age children are infected with parasitic worms (soil-transmitted helminths and schistosomes) across the globe. These infections are chronic and widespread, damaging children’s health and development and limiting their participation at school. Worms can cause anemia, malnourishment, and impairment of mental and physical development, and children, who suffer thehighest intensity of worm infections, experience the greatest morbidity.
Over the near-term, children with worm infections are often too sick or tired to concentrate at school, or to attend school at all. They may also experience impaired cognitive function and short-term memory. Over the long-term, those children persistently infected have been shown to have significantly lower literacy and earnings as adults.
Millions of affected children remain untreated each year. It is estimated that fewer than 15% of at-risk children are receiving treatment, which is far below the 75% target set by the World Health Organization (WHO) to reach by 2010.

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