by Don Bundy, Lead Health and Education specialist at the Human development Network, World Bank
In the complex world of education policy, experts comment that deworming may be the closest we have come to finding a "magic bullet." In regions of the world with high worm burdens, such as Africa and South Asia, deworming children for mere pennies a year results in an incredible range of benefits, from higher attendance rates, to healthier children more able to learn.

Deworming has already proven to be one of the most cost-effective education interventions, but new research suggests that deworming children can also result in long-term benefits, including higher wages, better health and stronger communities. Michael Kremer, co-Founder of Deworm the World and Gates Professor of Economics at Harvard, presented his findings from a new study in Kenya at the Bank last week.

Globally, more than 1 in 4 people are infected by intestinal worms. In Sub-Saharan Africa high infection rates prevail, particularly among school children. Worms cause can anemia, stunting and lethargy. The program in Kenya targeted school children in areas of high infection, using advanced geomapping techniques developed by the project.

Schools are the best delivery mechanism for reaching children with safe, mass school-based treatments. Promising findings of long-term impact in Kenya showed participants had higher wages, fewer sick days, more work hours, and higher-level occupations. Even better, the treatment resulted in positive externalities, including improvements in the health of untreated children, younger siblings, and neighbouring communities.

Originally piloted by Deworm the World, the successful Kenya program was later absorbed into the national education strategy and rolled out to 3 1/2 million people. To replicate the program's success, three states in India have embarked on piloting a similar approach to reach 35 million school children.

A panel led by World Bank Education Director, Elizabeth King, and Director of Human Development for Africa, Ritva Reinikka, discussed the cross-sectoral dimensions of deworming children. King focuses on the potential of deworming to help achieve learning for all. "We oftentimes think about classroom inputs," said King. "But the most important input into the educational process is really the child, and his or her readiness to learn."

"Education itself is a health intervention," followed Bob Prouty, Chief of the Education for All Fast Track Initiative Secretariat. "But we still need to make a clear case to donors that this is a smart investment. And capacity to implement is a problem."

Lesley Drake, Executive Director of Deworm the World at the Imperial College of London, tackled the question of how to replicate successful programs and mainstream deworming.

A main challenge to deworming programs is a lack of medicine. Pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson have been stepping in as a corporate partners to donate a total of 600 million deworming treatments a year - enough to cover every infected schoolchild in Africa. Deworming programs have clear cross-sectoral benefits that mandate cross-sectoral collaboration among health and education officials and corporate partners to maximize their impact.

A webcast of the presentation can be watched here.

Find more deworming resources on Schools and Health

Presentations from the seminar