A Holistic Approach to Treating Intestinal Worms in Women and Children

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” –African proverb

By: Kim Koporc, Director, Children Without Worms

Anyone who has ever tried to change the world is familiar with this sentiment. For those of us working in global health, it serves as an inspiring reminder that when faced with a seemingly insurmountable goal, teamwork is ultimately more successful than even the most heroic individual effort.

Policymakers often talk about tackling problems like endemic disease in a holistic way, integrating medical, educational and social resources into a combined effort. The desire for change may be there, but it requires thoughtful collaboration to make it happen. Policy makers can learn from the teachers, health workers, and volunteers, who work directly with the communities and must collaborate to overcome the challenges imposed by scarce resources.

As practitioners and advocates in the fight against neglected tropical diseases, Children Without Worms (CWW) is using the power of cooperation to improve the quality of life of millions of children around the world. CWW, a partnership between the Task Force for Global Health and Johnson & Johnson, works to treat soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH), a debilitating but often-neglected infection of intestinal worms that disproportionately affects women and children in developing countries. Why worms? Worms not only cause malnutrition, they also make the body vulnerable to other infections.  The good news is that STH is 100 percent preventable and treatable. In fact, we have the tools and know-how right now to stop the crippling effect of STH, but the solution requires a coordinated, integrated approach involving medication, access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene education.

CWW is at the intersection of this holistic approach – helping to bring together the groups that provide each of these critical interventions. We work to align local community leaders with national programs, to distribute a safe, effective medicine (mebendazole) and support comprehensive and sustainable education efforts to reach children at highest risk. CWW has worked to treat more than 20 million children and address the root causes of STH in eight countries throughout south-east Asia and Africa. In 2001, the World Health Assembly set a goal of treating at least 75 percent of all school-age children at risk of STH by 2010. This partnership and Johnson & Johnson’s contributions of mebendazole are credited with leading Cambodia, Cape Verde and Nicaragua to reach this key WHO target years ahead of the target date. We have already achieved what some said would never be possible, and others would not even attempt.

An effort of this scale requires constant adaptation. Just last week, Johnson & Johnson made a remarkable new commitment to quadruple its donation of mebendazole. This infusion of 200 million doses per year has the power to improve the health of more than 100 million children in countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. By pairing this contribution with more investment in research, we could set evidence-based guidelines about how often to treat for STH, freeing up doses to treat more children in more countries. With more resources invested in preventive measures like hygiene education and access to sanitation, we can address the roots causes of STH, allowing the cycle of re-infection to be broken.

Video: “Keeping Children Free of Infection”

As we work to bring local and national groups together – and focus our collective resources and voices on a shared goal – CWW is providing a model for how the private sector, governments, and in-country health providers can unite to address our most serious health issues. We are showing that no matter how big the problem may seem, together we will go farther than any of us can go alone.

Click here to read more about Kim Koporc

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