Children’s health and education go hand in hand: the healthier a child is, the more they are able to go to school, and the better their life chances.
School-aged children are the most at-risk group for intestinal worms and schistosomiasis: these neglected tropical diseases can lead to pain, stigma and a loss of education. But both diseases can be controlled through large-scale treatment programmes that target the entire at-risk population.
Deworming programmes supported by charity evaluator GiveWell focus on school children. Students are treated via mass drug administration to reduce the chances of the diseases spreading, and are taught about the importance of good hygiene and sanitation.
Deworming programmes have had a huge impact in Cameroon. At the end of 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a deworming campaign supported by GiveWell went ahead in the Littoral region of western Cameroon to protect children from disease. Here, you can meet some of the people involved in the project.
Otto is head teacher of a school in the Littoral region of Cameroon, and took part in training organised by Sightsavers and Cameroon’s Ministry of Health.
During the training, he learned about the importance of the deworming programme and how he could ensure it was a success.
“The problems we usually have are children who complain about having diarrhoea and stomach aches. So, because of this, a deworming campaign is organised every year and it often helps dramatically reduce the rate of these issues among students.
“Before being trained, I already knew that there are hookworms, roundworms, pinworms that can be found in the stomach and destroy the health of very young children when they’re not treated.
“The deworming programme is an opportunity for me to thank the government and Sightsavers for their action to ensure healthy lives for everyone. There is a saying: ‘Health before everything else’ – because when people are healthy, the economy also flourishes. When there is disease, everything trails behind, but everything can go well when there is good health.”
Before the deworming treatments were distributed, schools told students and parents about the programme.
Parents gave their consent and students were told to eat well and drink lots of water the morning of the treatment to help minimise any side effects. Once the students had taken the medication, teachers were responsible for checking that they had swallowed it.
Norbertine is one of the students that took part in the programme. “I like my school, because I am with my friends. I play all I want, I’m learning to read, to write,” she says. “When my teacher gives me homework, I do it as it should be done. My favourite thing is skipping rope. I also like grammar, maths, history and geometry. I hope to become a teacher one day.
“I have had worms before,” she explains. “I did not feel well and I had a fever. My tummy was reeling, I was throwing up and I had diarrhoea.” But after taking the medication, Norbertine’s symptoms eased. “It went well,” she says. “I did not throw up. I do not have a tummy ache any more. I no longer have diarrhoea.”
Normal deworming activities in Cameroon’s schools were delayed by a month because of the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures.
The programme also had to adapt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, meaning all students were given face masks and hand sanitiser, and encouraged to wash their hands and maintain social distancing.
Makoge is programme officer for Sightsavers in the Cameroon country office, providing technical support to the Ministry of Public Health when carrying out projects. “Our activities are usually not routine, especially this year, with COVID-19,” he explains. “We had to adapt, to align with global measures to prevent the further spread of the pandemic.
“One of the good things about the projects is seeing the impact we have on the community, especially the hard-to-reach areas where children had schistosomiasis. After taking the deworming treatment, children who were usually absent in school because of the infections can now go to school the whole year.
“COVID-19 has made it very challenging, but we are able to adapt immediately to ensure we achieve our deworming objectives, as well as preventing the spread of COVID-19. We are not just raising awareness about deworming, but also teaching students and parents that they need to wash their hands regularly, practice good hygiene and wash food thoroughly.”
Crepin is an English teacher at a public primary school in the Littoral region of Cameroon, and has been teaching for 13 years.
Thanks to GiveWell, Crepin was trained to take part in the deworming campaign.
“We always have students who are sick with diarrhoea, stomach aches and many other ailments. When a student is absent, teachers sometimes have to organise catch-up lessons for them. Teachers are not happy when students are not present because it affects the performance and learning process of the students.
“The deworming programmes will ensure we have healthy, strong children who will succeed in school and in their careers, to create the Cameroon of tomorrow.”