Two days ago I found myself in a similar situation to that which triggered the beginning of this blog: a friend of mine at university has nominated me to complete the worm vs. worms challenge. I attempted to take a picture of myself cloaked/draped in a duvet, but I failed quite miserably (who knew a selfie would be impossible when covered from head to foot in artificial down?) The challenge was started at the first Polygeia conference, which is documented here:
Polygeia is a “Cambridge-based organisation designed to empower students to research and write policy on global health issues”. The worm vs. worms challenge is meant to spark a wave of donations to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI; this video is quite graphic at some points, so you might want to sit down before you watch it):
Schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia) is the cause of death of approximately 280,000 people every year. Compared to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), for example, which affects one to two people per 100,000, schistosomiasis and other related parasite infections are extremely prevalent. The morbidity associated with schistosomiasis is even greater: an estimated 240 million people are infected worldwide. [These data were retrieved from here.]
Compared to the ALS ice-bucket challenge, the SCI makes it a lot more transparent what the donated money is used for (and has the great advantage of not wasting about ten litres of clean water). For example, their website outlines the steps they take to deliver praziquantel and albendazole to children in sub-Saharan Africa.
The drugs, praziquantel (which is not approved for use in humans in the UK) and albendazole, are themselves cheap. Additionally, the WHO provides praziquantel “free of charge to high-disease burden countries in sub-Saharan Africa, through a donation from Merck Serono”. Therefore the main role of SCI is to facilitate the efficient delivery of the drugs to the “right” places.
The SCI was established in 2002 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Programme and is affiliated with Imperial College London. To me personally, the affiliation with a reputable university increases my trust in the initiative (but maybe this is a biased and misled viewpoint).
Lastly, the treatment and reduction of helminth diseases is bound to have large global social/political/economic implications, but my knowledge of possible outcomes and effects is minimal and other people certainly have more informed opinions about this. What is clear, however, is that whereas to us here (in the the “developed” world) ALS is a much scarier disease than schistosomiasis, to people infected with helminths ALS is completely irrelevant because they will probably die before the onset of symptoms of the neurodegenerative disorder. Yes, my friends, my family and relatives and I are more likely to get ALS than schistosomiasis, but that is an insufficient reason not to donate to SCI.
This is where you can donate if you would like to: Schistosomiasis Control Initiative at Imperial College London.