By Kerry Gallo, Children Without Worms
Ned Breslin’s recent commentary in The Huffington Post regarding The London Declaration to control or eliminate 10 neglected tropical diseases (NTD or NTDs) brought up an important point: the NTD and WASH sectors need to leverage the many opportunities for collaboration that exist. Successful collaboration will be critical in making a big difference in controlling or eliminating NTDs.
Children Without Worms and Johnson & Johnson have been focused on soil-transmitted helminthes (STH), an NTD also referred to as intestinal worms. Nearly 600 million children around the world are at risk of STH, which leads to malnutrition, stunting and other irreversible damage which impedes long-term health and earning potential.
We have long understood that medicines are part of the solution — after all, drugs treat infection and once administered to an infected child, the benefits are almost immediate. But to keep children and families healthy for the long run, preventing infections from happening in the first place is vital. Access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene are key to making that happen and have therefore been central to our approach.
We have been proud and privileged to work through WASH partners in a few of our program countries, particularly Cambodia and Cameroon. In Cambodia, we have worked through the Ministries of Health and Education to conduct deworming days and to implement a curriculum our partner, Helen Keller International, developed to teach children the importance of hand washing and using sanitation facilities. In Cameroon, we work with the World Wildlife Fund, who builds latrines and provides access to drinking water in remote communities.
A recent literature review and meta-analysis on the impact of water and sanitation on STH control performed by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute shows the benefits of this integrated approach. The study found that “the availability and use of sanitation facilities were associated with a reduction in the prevalence of infection with soil-transmitted helminthes [odds ratio of 0.51]”.
The London Declaration was indeed a moment in time for diseases that has affected so many people on our planet for too long. As we expand our program to other countries with increased donations of mebendazole from Johnson & Johnson and new donations of albendazole from GlaxoSmithKline, we will seek additional opportunities to partner with WASH-focused organizations whose expertise we welcome. CWW also recognizes the importance of examining the effectiveness of combining various WASH interventions with treatment to combat STH infection, and plans to support research to strengthen the evidence base and inform the best strategies for comprehensive control.
I am reminded of a proverb used frequently in global health and development: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. This nugget of ancient wisdom remains true today. By working together to broaden an integrated approach to addressing NTDs, the WASH and NTD sector will be able to achieve so much more.