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  • Writer's pictureEmpower Through Health

Worms, Walking, and Witch Doctors

Spotlight #1: Helminthic Infections (Washington University in St. Louis, Uganda Christian University)

Hello friends of ETH,

Just two weeks ago we reached out to you about wrapping up our first ever Global Health Experiential Fellowship. While we had lots to share regarding students’ work during the fellowship, we figured it would be best to give you these updates in newsletters that focus on each second session team individually. Today, we’d like to spotlight the work of our helminthic infections team, consisting of Abraham Musiimenta from Uganda Christian University as well as Holly Lam, Uma Paithankar, and yours truly from Washington University!

The helminthic infections team spent much of their 6-week session on one of the most taxing kinds of global health work- conducting randomly sampled surveys on foot. After locating each randomly sampled household with the help of village health teams (VHTs), a representative of the household was surveyed on their knowledge, attitudes, and practices (KAP) regarding parasitic worm infections (i.e. schistosomiasis, hookworm, tapeworm). Among public health hazards present in our catchment area, helminthic infections can often be the most difficult to diagnose and treat, as different types of infection can present similar symptoms. Therefore, our work of assessing medical histories is only the first step in addressing these issues. In all, 25 villages in Buyende district were visited with 10 households surveyed in each, adding up to a grand total of 250 KAP surveys completed! Although analysis of survey results by students is only just beginning, preliminary data suggests the agrarian lifestyle of our catchment area’s residents puts them at far greater risk for soil-transmitted helminths such as hookworm or tapeworm, than for schistosomiasis.

In addition to surveys, the helminthic infections team also held focus group discussions with groups of VHTs, farmers, and fishermen to assess more qualitative aspects of participants’ views on local risk factors and disease incidence. Some focus groups even included traditional healers, who were happy to share the herbal and spiritual treatments they use for worm infections. During the last week of the fellowship, fellows also worked with VHTs to coordinate mass drug administrations of albendazole, a deworming tablet used to eliminate infections by soil-transmitted helminths, and Vitamin A to counter infection-related malnutrition. Because helminthic infections tend to be most damaging during developmental stages of life, deworming and supplementation were only given to children under the age of 15. Treating Mpunde village and 5 of its closest neighbors, the team was able to deworm and give Vitamin A supplements to over 500 kids in only its first week! The work of administering our remaining 19,500 doses of albendazole- provided by Vitamin Angels charity- will be continued this fall.

“Through focus group discussions (FGDs), we got the opportunity to hear directly from community members about their experiences with helminthic infections. Community members were open to voicing their thoughts and concerns and were welcoming to us, people they hadn’t ever met before! We heard unique stories that we had not anticipated, and I think the work will certainly help to inform future educational campaigns and related interventions.

Through both the KAP questionnaires and the FGDs, we met so many interesting people. It was eye-opening to actually experience and help run the field work. Bringing our project to life - from the pen and paper stage last summer to work on the ground - felt fulfilling and was very exciting.

One of the most exciting arms of our project was kicking off the mass administration of deworming drugs to children 15 years and younger. In the first 5 weeks of our project, we had heard extensively about the ever-prevalent issues of helminthic infections, so you can imagine our excitement when we actually got to start doing something about this persisting problem. It was an amazing feeling!

Altogether, it was meaningful to understand how the different aspects of our project worked in tandem to address the problem in the short-term as well as have a sustainable, long-term impact through the empowerment of community members.” - Uma Paithankar (Wash U ‘23)

Stay tuned over the next few weeks to see spotlights of our Mental Health and Contraception & Family Planning teams!


Other Updates

The second installment of the ETH vlog is coming soon! In the meantime, check out the first episode if you haven’t already:

Thank you to everyone who’s already ordered from our new apparel store- all funds go toward our on-the-ground operations and are greatly appreciated. New clothing designs will be posted in the coming weeks.

We are excited to announce we have established new chapters at Ohio State University, University of Pennsylvania, and Cornell University! If you or someone you know is interested in joining any of these chapters, please reach out to


As always, we want to thank contacts like you for your continued support. Your engagement is an integral part of the work we do and we greatly appreciate it.

Sincerely, Nick

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