Not-so-trendy health problems

Who has heard of schistosomiasis? Aside from the development worker, the doctor, or the random Peace Corps volunteer who comes home with a positive diagnosis.

Yet, schistosomiasis, along with other common intestinal worms, affect over 2 billion people in the world, most of these being children. There is so much attention and funding dedicated towards the major diseases of the developing world, like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, that we lose focus on these other health conditions. Intestinal worms, for example, significantly impair children's physical and cognitive development. A randomized study in Kenya found that deworming programs in schools reduced absenteeism by 25%.

It is not a question of not knowing how to treat these less publicized health problems. Many of these intestinal worms can be treated with just one dose of medication. It is even less a question of cost: medications against these worms cost only a few cents per child treated.

Recently, a friend raised the question about the extent to which the development community is setting incentives so that too many health resources in poor countries are being redirected towards HIV/AIDS and malaria. As a result, other important health issues are not being addressed, thus missing opportunities for big gains in health for small investments.

A new organization, Deworm the World, seems like a promising initiative to raise awareness, increase funding, and promote mass deworming campaigns through schools.

What else should be done?