Some of you may have heard of the so-called “Worm Wars” that have been raging this summer. If you aren’t yet familiar with this battle, what happened was that researchers took a deep and critical look at the Kenyan study conducted by economists Edward Miguel and Michael Kremer back in the late 1990s. The study was published in 2004.
In a nutshell, the study indicated that deworming “substantially improved health and school participation among untreated children in both treatment schools and neighboring schools.” Miguel and Kramer’s study served as a catalyst to launch worldwide deworming initiatives that were considered one of the most imperative health interventions of all time.
Fast forward to nearly two decades later when a group of independent researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine decided to replicate and reanalyze Miguel and Kremer’s data. The findings: the Miguel and Kremer study has some serious flaws including missing original data and significant data errors. The general consensus reached by the researchers was that of course, deworming initiatives decreased worm infections overall, but the ancillary benefits of improved school attendance and performance, nutritional gains, and improved cognition due to large scale deworming programs, were largely unclear.
So will the ongoing reanalyses of large scale deworming schemes lead to huge organizations like the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), Gates Foundation, and the Carter Center to defund deworming programs in which they have staunchly supported in past and recent years? Not likely.
The Carter Center has been working to eradicate Guinea Worm since the mid-1980s and has managed to get international agencies to take action, including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and national ministries of health on board.
The Gates Foundation—which awarded the Carter Center a $25 million grant to support its work on Guinea worm—implemented a deworming program in 2002 and has committed millions of dollars toward those efforts. And deworming is a major initiative at CIFF and the foundation has dedicated nearly $40 million toward global deworming efforts.
So what does this all mean? Boiled down, it means that large scale deworming programs do not result in all of the health and education benefits lauded by the Miguel-Kremer study. And that really is too bad. But the study did catalyze the global deworming movement that positively impacted the health of millions of children around the world. That’s not nothing.