A month ago, I had the privilege of working with Zaman Talukder, Len Wanak and Hou Kroeun of Helen Keller International at the Chung Ruk primary school in Pnom Penh, Cambodia. We were there to oversee a “deworming day” – a day when children receive deworming medication and learn the importance of hygiene and sanitation in an effort to treat and prevent intestinal worms. What made this trip different was that this time, I went with a crew to produce a film, which was shown at this year’s Global Health Council Conference.
Deworming is one of those subjects that is unpleasant to think or talk about…but more and more people are recognizing its role in breaking the cycle of poverty. 600 million school-age children are at risk, and deworming days are an opportunity to reach them and provide a comfortable environment to facilitate discussion about an unpopular subject. Roundworms, whipworms and hookworms, collectively known as soil-transmitted helminths (STH), infect children through contaminated soil or water, depriving them of the vital nutrients they need to concentrate in the classroom and take advantage of the opportunities that set them up for a healthy, productive adulthood.
The medication, donated by Johnson & Johnson, is administered by Children Without Worms (CWW), and HKI has been a critical partner in providing the educational tools needed to prevent reinfection: once the children receive their medication, they go into the classroom and learn about the importance of hand-washing, using sanitation facilities and drinking clean water. The lessons and habits that HKI teaches the children are far-reaching: the children go home, practice, and teach their siblings and parents how to prevent infection from happening in the first place.
Working together, CWW and HKI have achieved a model that can be replicated in other countries to bring STH infection under control – a cost-effective model that is making a real difference. The bright, beautiful faces of these children provide motivation for us all to keep going.