The long run impact of early childhood deworming on numeracy and literacy: Evidence from Uganda.
BACKGROUND: Up to 1.45 billion people currently suffer from soil transmitted helminth infection, with the largest burden occurring in Africa and Asia. Safe and cost effective deworming treatment exists, but there is a debate about mass distribution of this treatment in high prevalence settings. While the World Health Organization recommends mass administration of anthelmintic drugs for preschool and school-aged children in high (>20%) prevalence settings, and several long run follow up studies of an influential trial have suggested large benefits that persist over time, recent systematic reviews have called this recommendation into question.
METHODS AND FINDINGS: This paper analyzes the long-term impact of a cluster-randomized trial in eastern Uganda that provided mass deworming treatment to preschool aged children from 2000 to 2003 on the numeracy and literacy skills of children and young adults living in those villages in 2010-2015. This study uses numeracy and literacy data collected seven to twelve years after the end of the deworming trial in a randomly selected subset of communities from the original trial, by an education-focused survey that had no relationship to the deworming study. Building on an earlier working paper which used data from 2010 and 2011 survey rounds, this paper uses an additional four years of numeracy and literacy data (2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015). Aggregating data from all survey rounds, the difference between numeracy scores in treatment versus control communities is 0.07 standard deviations (SD) (95% CI -0.10, 0.24, p = 0.40), the difference in literacy scores is 0.05 SD (95% CI -0.16, 0.27, p = 0.62), and the difference in total scores is 0.07 SD (95% CI -0.11, 0.25, p = 0.44). There are significant differences in program impact by gender, with numeracy and literacy differentially positively affected for girls, and by age, with treatment effects larger for the primary school aged subsample. There are also significant treatment interactions for those living in households with more treatment-eligible children. There is no evidence of differential treatment effects on age at program eligibility or number of years of program eligibility.
CONCLUSIONS: Mass deworming of preschool aged children in high prevalence communities in Uganda resulted in no statistically significant gains in numeracy or literacy 7-12 years after program completion. Point estimates were positive but imprecise; the study lacked sufficient power to rule out substantial positive effects or more modest negative effects. However, there is suggestive evidence that deworming was relatively more beneficial for girls, primary school aged children, and children living in households with other treated children.
RESEARCH APPROVAL: As this analysis was conducted on secondary data which is publicly available, no research approval was sought or received. All individual records were anonymized by the data provider prior to public release.