Eradicating gut worms: a path out of poverty

Naomi Clarke, Australian National University

Hundreds of millions of children worldwide are infected with intestinal worms, which can stunt their growth and trap them in a cycle of poverty. Naomi Clarke has shown more can be done to reduce these worm infections worldwide.

Global efforts to control intestinal worms are reducing infection rates. Naomi’s research demonstrates that more can be done—simple changes to program guidelines could benefit millions of children and their communities.

Naomi is one of three finalists for the inaugural CSL Florey Next Generation Award, with a $20,000 prize. The Award, supported by CSL Limited, will be conferred to a current PhD candidate who has demonstrated outstanding capability, creativity and potential in the biomedical sciences, health and medical research.

More than a billion people worldwide are infected with intestinal worms, which are transmitted through contact with faecal matter from infected people. They’re common in low income countries with poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water.

Naomi explains the effects of the worms are subtle, chronic and insidious.

“While it’s rare that children die from intestinal worm infections, it can affect their physical growth, intellectual development and prospects for life. And they live in countries that already have entrenched poverty,” she says.

Current programs involve treating children with deworming tablets every six to 12 months because infections keep coming back. Naomi’s research found worm infection prevention was more effective when all people in the community, including adults, were dewormed.

Her research, including field work in East Timor, shows that expanding medication programs to all community members could lead to much better control in children. Medication costs about three cents per dose.

“We want our research findings will be incorporated into World Health Organization guidelines for controlling intestinal worms. We want these children to be able to reach their full potential.”

Photographs of Naomi Clarke

Naomi Clarke with supervisor Susana Vaz Nery (Photo credit: Jamie Kidson, ANU)

Naomi Clarke with her study team in Timor-Leste (Photo credit: ANU)

Naomi Clarke atop Mt Ramelau – the highest peak in Timor (Photo credit: Naomi Clarke)