In 2013, the END Fund was still new to the community of organizations working on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Only officially founded in 2012, our goal was (and still is) to raise private capital in order to help fill the gaps in NTD programs focusing on countries in Africa. By 2013, we were expanding to new countries and raising more money.
This brought several people on our team to Kenya with members of our board where we were working with the Ministry of Health and partner Evidence Action. There to observe the efforts and the deworming impacts on education that were already underway, our team visited schools where children were being treated. At one of the schools we met two girls, Samu and Valentiyne.
Then in 2018, we had another team returning to Kenya to show one of our partners how school-based deworming worked and we got to wondering what had happened to these girls? Had the deworming programs we supported for 5 years at the time improved their lives at all? So, we went to check up on the same school and see if we could find the now much older Valentiyne and Samu.
Intestinal worms and schistosomiasis wreak havoc on children’s development if left untreated. Essentially, the parasites steal nutrients from kids, hampering their cognitive development and the resulting anemia makes them feel sick and miss school. When they are in school the pain from intestinal worms makes it difficult for them to concentrate. In fact, studies show that deworming students decreases absenteeism by as much as 25 percent, increases the chance that girls will graduate secondary school and results in children earning higher incomes over their lifetime. And what could make treating for these diseases even more compelling? It costs less than 25 cents per student per year to providing deworming pills.
Kenya’s national school-based deworming program began in 2012 with the goal to reach every school-age child with deworming treatment. The program uses schools to treat students because they are already going to be there and the teachers are a trusted source to hand out medicine. For the last six years, the Ministry of Health organized treatments for roughly 6 million children each year! The result is a substantial reduction in the prevalence of these diseases. Intestinal worms were reduced from 33% in 2012 to 15% in 2017 and the prevalence of schistosomiasis fell by 67%, according to the Kenya Medical Research institute.
When we met up with Samu and Valentiyne again, their school had gone through five rounds of yearly deworming treatment and their sixth would be happening shortly after our visit. Samu was now a shy fifth grade student who likes to learn about science, specifically biology and how plants grow. She dreams of one day becoming a pilot.
Valentiyne, now in the eighth grade, towers over her peers. She remembers our last visit when medicine was handed out five years ago. Over the years she has noticed the difference the medicine has on the class: “It was good because it helped us understand what the teacher was telling us. When that medicine did not come before, sometimes our stomach was [hurting] in class when the teacher was teaching. After taking that medicine it became good, so it helped us in our bodies.” Valentiyne wants to become a doctor to help her peers who are sick.
Deworming isn’t a cure all for problems of education in countries, but we know that it helps remove one large barrier to students’ development.