I was walking to the college of public health at the University of the Philippines for my first day of work. Trash lined the streets, children begged for money, and people slept on cardboard boxes. Mental images of worms spewing from a child's stomach occupied my mind. Although it was just my imagination, it was not far from reality.
For five weeks, I participated in research on Soil-transmitted Helminthiasis (STH). STH, a neglected tropical disease (NTD), is a major problem in impoverished areas such as the Philippines. It affects more than one billion people globally.
Upon my arrival, I was greeted by Dr. Belizario along with a briefing on STH, NTDs, and the morbidities that those with high intensity infections suffer. These infections lead to stunted growth, malnourished figure, and poorer school performance.
I saw significance behind every one of those names. Every person on that list was the embodiment of a message, “Please, help me.” I saw the problem. The idea of the poorest people suffering with disease, unable to heal them given poor living conditions, troubled me. I was given the task of encoding personal information of patients from a handwritten form into Excel. Assuming that I would complete this task easily, I began to encode immediately. Less than fifteen minutes later, I found myself barely making a dent in the what seemed bottomless list of names. Initially I thought this task was tedious, but after all the endless typing and “command-c, command-v” combinations, I saw significance behind every one of those names. Every person on that list was the embodiment of a message, “Please, help me.” I saw the problem. The idea of the poorest people suffering with disease, unable to heal them given poor living conditions, troubled me.
In response, I spoke to Dr. Belizario, asking what had been done to help these unfortunate people. I learned that treatment was being provided for free, along with the tools for proper hygiene. He explained that this mission is not all about giving treatment, but it also takes social skills. This skill is what convinces people to take treatment and to practice proper hygiene. The name of the mission is “War on Worms and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene” or “WOW-a-WASH”.
With this knowledge, I felt it necessary to take part in this mission to eradicate STH. Dr. Belizario suggested that I create an educational video on STH. I, having experience in video editing, found this to be a great idea.
In order to gain inspiration for the video, we traveled to the mountainous region of Pampanga. I visited an elementary school with children infected with STH. Children were walking barefoot, wearing tattered clothing, and taught outdoors due to a recent earthquake that damaged classrooms. I was humbled by the visit and found a new appreciation for everything my school has provided.
During my visit, I met five children who had the highest intensities of infection in the entire school. One boy, Darren, had the highest intensity of all students. Although being a fourth grade student, he was no taller than my hip. This was an extreme of the morbidities and showed me the importance that action be taken.
The video’s purpose was to encourage those affected to fight against the disease, which can be defeated. In the second half of the video, I included words of encouragement and a call to action to take treatment and to practice proper WASH conditions.With this newfound inspiration, I started work on the video. I incorporated information on STH and NTDs, including an emphasis on its morbidities. This was intended to instill a sense of fear of the diseases, but was not the intention of the video. The video’s purpose was to encourage those affected to fight against the disease, which can be defeated. In the second half of the video, I included words of encouragement and a call to action to take treatment and to practice proper WASH conditions.
Although action has been taken, not all affected communities have been reached. These neglected communities lack the necessary resources for the control and prevention of STH, such as sanitary toilets and tools for proper hygiene. We still have lots of work to do. Together we can find a way to eradicate STH and win the War on Worms. You can watch my video below.