Posted by: blog4globalhealth | 07/21/2011

TELLING A STORY, MAKING AN IMPACT

Director of Children Without Worms Kim Koporc tells the story of a deworming day in Cambodia

Soil transmitted helminthiasis (STH), caused by intestinal worms, does not capture public attention the way other infectious diseases do. Like most of the neglected tropical disease portfolio, STH is not usually fatal – which partly explains why they are neglected in conversations about public health. Regardless, the effects are nonetheless devastating. Malnutrition, stunting and decreased adult productivity are the consequences, and with more than 800 million children on the planet at risk for STH infection, preventing and treating them should be a priority.

Last month, I traveled to Cambodia to shoot a video telling the story of how Children Without Worms (CWW) works with Helen Keller International and the Ministries of Health and Education in Cambodia to treat children affected by intestinal worms. It was not my first trip to Cambodia, but it was the first time I traveled with a video camera.

The film’s focus was to show the global health community what a “deworming day” is all about – a day for children to receive deworming medication donated by Johnson & Johnson and receive lessons on sanitation and handwashing to help prevent recurring infections.

The children were all a bit camera shy at the beginning, self-conscious and huddling together. But slowly they came around, lining up to take their medication and letting their teachers record the data the Ministry of Health requires. By the end of the day, the children were singing songs together on the play ground and cooperating with the crew.

Many public health interventions targeting children focus on the critical formative years when they are most vulnerable to infection, but their at-risk years do not end there. These beautiful, bright children I met will continue to be at high-risk for malnutrition for years to come, and STH infection makes it worse. Intestinal worms take away what little nutrition children can take in, robbing them of the nutrients and calories they need to play and learn, and most importantly, to grow. But there is a silver lining to the cloud – reaching these children at school with deworming medication is possible and the effects will be felt for a lifetime. It takes the right partners and the political will to make it happen at the national level.

Global Health TV on CWW

Next for CWW and Johnson & Johnson is a significant scale-up to reach as many at-risk children as possible as part of the Company’s overall commitment towards the Millennium Development Goals pertaining to maternal and child health. Johnson & Johnson committed to donate 200 million doses of mebendazole per year over the next four years to reach these at risk children. The long-term effects of this donation and deworming will be felt across communities and countries in the developing world for generations to come – beginning with increased school attendance today and more employment opportunities and productive, fulfilling lives down the road.

The faces I see on deworming days in Cambodia, and in the seven other countries where we also work, make it all worthwhile. My aim is simple: By telling their stories and making their voices heard, we will change their lives for the better.
Kim Koporc is the director of Children Without Worms (CWW).


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