Deworming debunked? Or good science gone bad?

According to the World Health Organization, more than 870 million children around the globe are at risk of infection by a group of parasites, commonly referred to as “worms,” that can lead to nutritional and cognitive impairment. Periodic deworming of children has been found to be effective and good value for the money, according to many academic researchers, WHO and other technical experts.

deworming sessionRecently, however, journalists and bloggers have claimed that deworming has been “debunked” as a cost-effective way to improve children’s school participation.

“The blogosphere is buzzing” about epidemiologists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine “who carried out the verification and reanalysis of a landmark 2004 trial of school-based deworming,” says Paul Gertler, a professor of public health and business at UC Berkeley. The London team “does verify that deworming increases school attendance in a ‘pure’ replication of the study,” he notes, “but they also carry out a statistical re-analysis… that introduces several unconventional judgments into the mix.”

“Data mining” by the epidemiologists, and the subsequent “media frenzy” around children’s deworming, represent a major step backward in global health, Gertler writes on the Berkeley Blog.