“Education, education, education.” Blair’s 1997 election catchphrase emphasises the importance of schooling in reducing inequality and poverty. As any gap year student who has spent a year constructing school walls in Uganda will attest, efforts to lift third-world countries out of poverty often centre on improving education.
But widespread infections with NTDs may hamper schooling efforts. A study of schoolchildren in the Philippines found that curing children of schistosomiasis increased children’s performance in cognitive tests. Those children who became reinfected performed less well that those who stayed clear of infection.
The results suggest that in order to effect improvement in educational performance, children need to be kept clear of the disease, so repeated treatments are needed in areas where infection is rife.
Schistosomiasis is a parasitic worm endemic across Africa and in parts of South America and South-East Asia. It is easily treated with Praziquantel, a drug that costs less than 50p and is used in the UK for worming cats, dogs and farm animals.
NTDs almost exclusively affect second- and third-world countries, and advocates often argue that the diseases themselves are a major impediment to economic growth. Additionally, schistosomiasis is the second-largest parasitic killer in the world (after malaria), causing 300,000 deaths every year.
So while building schools is no bad thing, the barriers to education are more complicated than bricks and mortar.
Image: GarrettC on flickr