Reshaping Intestinal Worm Programs to Include Women Focus

When The Task Force’s program on intestinal worms was established in 2006, the focus was on children because infections lead to malnutrition and deficiencies like anemia, which undermine early childhood development. The Children Without Worms (CWW) partnership with Johnson & Johnson (and later GSK) was our first program focused exclusively on soil-transmitted helminth (STH) infections – commonly known as intestinal worms – in school-age children around the world. 

CWW is now broadening its focus to include women of reproductive age and adolescent girls who are a high-priority group for STH services due to their increased risk of anemia. There is also a clear link between anemia during pregnancy and negative health outcomes among infants.

“These worms rob humans of valuable nutrients, and for women and girls, that loss of nutrients is felt doubly in child and maternal health because of our biological makeup,” said Cara Tupps, CWW’s Associate Director of Programs. “It’s a matter of health equity and making health services accessible to those that need them most.”

CWW is helping countries design and implement programs and is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop new guidelines for STH services. The updated WHO guidelines will ensure that women are equitably addressed in the effort to fight intestinal worms.

Intestinal worms affect an estimated 1.5 billion people in more than 100 countries. This includes an estimated 688 million women of reproductive age. According to the WHO, about 10 percent of people in the developing world are infected with intestinal worms. People in developing countries are at the highest risk due to drinking water from contaminated sources and because of inadequate sanitation.

Among the global STH community, the shift has been sparked by new global targets outlined in the WHO’s 2030 Neglected Tropical Diseases Roadmap launched in early 2021. Previous guidelines recommended treatment for a broad age range of females but only in areas of high STH prevalence and not as the key focus of the program.

For many countries prioritizing women of reproductive age will mean reshaping programs. CWW is helping by providing evidence-based strategies to inform  WHO policy updates. Currently, CWW is generating baseline prevalence data for this target group so that programs can develop  evidence-based decisions for treatment. Once the new WHO policy has been published, CWW will support national programs to scale up and effectively and efficiently deliver interventions to women of reproductive age.

Header photo: Women in Bangladesh join a community education training about intestinal worms.

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