Alyssa Marriner: Cosmas, it’s really great to have you here today, and I don’t know if you’ve got a coffee, I’ve got a coffee with me and to have a nice chat with you about, you know, schistosomiasis and intestinal worms. Which are probably two things I never thought I’d say in the sentence together, coffee and worms. But I think it’s really a fascinating topic. So, can you just tell us a bit more about what are schistosomiasis and intestinal worms?
Ndellejong Cosmas Ejong: Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease that is caused by flatworms; they are called flukes. These worms actually infect humans through direct contact with the snail-infested waters.
Alyssa: And who are most at risk of contracting these infections? Because we, I am and you, are lucky enough to live in an area where we don’t have to really worry about these, but they’re huge, huge problem affecting millions of people around the world.
Cosmas: Yes. Currently the data we have shows that preschool-age and school-age children are the most at risk, because of their age, of vulnerability. So once the child is infected with worms, schistosomiasis worms, there is the tendency for you to fall sick and then the child will be in and out of school, and that regular absence from school affects their school attendance and participation.
Now, the worms also have a tendency to affect the growth and development. It also affects their cognition, their intellectual capacity. And in the process of all of this the direct impact on school attendance and participation and performance has a long-term effect on their social, you know, outcome.
Alyssa: It’s really, it is just really devastating. Especially as you can think… I mean, just remembering back as a kid and how much I loved going to school: most kids do, because it’s a place where you can go play and meet friends and you’re learning every day, and to be infected by these diseases which are completely preventable. How can deworming children change the world?
Cosmas: The future of the world is in our kids. And if you take care of the kids, you are taking care of the future. So, deworming children is actually preserving skills, potentials that could have a strong or a very significant impact in the future.
Alyssa: I think that’s wonderful and it gives such a positive thing to look forward to and to continue to fight for, and put funding and backing behind to support these programmes that are working so tirelessly to help get to elimination.
So I think we’re really excited because one of Sightsavers’ funded and supported programmes is through GiveWell, and they have recommended us for the past six years as one of their top charities for deworming. And what are GiveWell and Sightsavers achieving together?
Cosmas: The partnership between GiveWell and Sightsavers, I would say, is a very strong relationship that has been built on the grounds of trust and mutual commitment. We’re achieving a lot because as it stands now GiveWell is a significant player in the fight against schistosomiasis. And so it’s making a big impact in the health and wellbeing of the population and reducing the burden of the disease to both school-age children and adults.
Alyssa: Do you have any stories from your work within the deworming programmes that you could share with us?
Cosmas: Sure, I will recount my trip to DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. I met this little girl while I was on my monitoring visit and trying to talk with the kids at school, whether they understand the cycle of transmission of schistosomiasis, and these kids were smart. They were all fourth- and fifth-grade students. And I asked one of them: “How has this helped you?”
This little girl told me that she used to have frequent urination, or hematuria, she used to pass out blood frequently. But it persisted and when she went to the local health unit to consult, then the nurse suspected it was schistosomiasis. She was going frail, she was getting weak. She was dropping out frequently from class.
But when the nurse changed her prognosis and suspected schisto, then it fell within the campaign season, and she admitted that she took praziquantel [medication for schistosomiasis] at school, and after that, that bleeding stopped. Her frequent drop-out from school was terminated, and she was so intelligent because she was one of those that actually was leading the health club in her class.
So, she was like an advocate for kids not to get themselves exposed to that particular [infected] river. So that’s one story that has never left me.
Alyssa: I just think that’s such a lovely story. So thank you so much for sharing that with us.
Cosmas: Thank you. I would want to say one of my greatest joys, maybe before I retire, is to see schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminths eliminated in my lifetime.