The last decade has seen a massive increase in enrollment in primary school, but in many places, many enrolled students do not attend regularly. There is now considerable evidence from randomized evaluations on the effectiveness of different strategies to promote student attendance. And from theses, a general picture of cost-effectiveness has emerged.
Among the programs examined by J-PAL, treating children for parasitic worms stands out as one of the most cost-effective. Intestinal worms most commonly infect children and can be so widespread that the symptoms of parasitic worms are considered a natural feature of childhood. But worm infection can cause anemia, weakness, making it difficult for students to attend school or concentrate in class.
The technology to combat intestinal worms is simple, cheap and can be easily delivered to children through schools. Cost-effectiveness analyses by J-PAL find school-based deworming leads to an additional 13.9 years of education for every $100 spent, based on a small-scale experiment in Kenya. Large-scale deworming programs have cost less than 50 cents per child per year (less than the program piloted in Kenya), suggesting an even higher level of cost-effectiveness.
In addition to the impacts on student attendance, long-run outcomes for adults dewormed as children include fewer days lost to illness and 20% higher earnings. The younger siblings of children dewormed through schools also benefited from reduced worm transmission, and were taller, less stunted and had improved cognitive outcomes.
The verdict from this body of evidence is clear: deworming treatment is not only highly effective and inexpensive, it is easy to administer through public schools and brings benefits to children years after treatment. With over 600 million children still affected by worm infection worldwide, providing free school-based deworming treatment is an easy policy “win” for health, education, and development.
We have an immediate opportunity to make a difference in millions of children’s lives. This month the Forum is featuring school-based deworming in Bihar, India in a Crowdrise fundraising campaign. Most program funds are already in place to deworm 17 million children; all that’s needed is 2 more cents per child. Please help invest in children’s education by donating now.
Rachel Glennerster is the Executive Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previously, Glennerster worked as an Economic Adviser to HM Treasury, a Development Associate at the Harvard Institute for International Development, and as a Senior Economist at the International Monetary Fund.
Photo Credit: Esther Havens