The power of distribution: Fighting hookworm in Cambodia

Kids in the U.S. no longer contract hookworm, like they did 100 years ago, thanks to an integrated campaign of medication distribution, improved sanitary, and public education. Children at the time who were exposed to this integrated campaign were more likely to subsequently grow up more literate and affluent. (Read more about this campaign.)

Hookworm is still a global problem, but recently Cambodia showed that it can still be beaten.

(As noted in a previous post regarding eradicating parasites–this isn’t a sexy topic, but it is important.)

What is hookworm? It’s a parasite that lives in soil until it can latch onto someone’s foot, penetrate the skin, and make its way to the small intestine. There, it lives of the person’s blood supply, which causes anemia. In children, that anemia can impact physical and intellectual development.

Cambodia doesn’t have the resources for an integrated national campaign such as in the U.S. Still, they developed a distribution plan that makes a difference.

The World Health Organization recommends that children with possible exposure to hookworm receive de-worming medication once or twice a year (depending on the severity of the problem in their area). Cambodia utilized the public schools as a distribution channel for both medication and education against hookworm. Public school teachers were trained on dispensing the medication and also on posters and games to share with students regarding hookworm.

From 1990 to 2010, Cambodia posted a 93 percent reduction in ill health from hookworm for children ages 5 to 14. That’s the largest reduction in Southeast Asia. Since there’s evidence that children free from hookworm learn better and prosper more, that’s a great outcome for the future of the country–all from effective distribution.

Do you think the U.S. should use its public schools for distribution of public health campaigns against childhood health problems such as asthma and obesity?

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