The Government of India held National Deworming Day 2016 on February 10, deworming 179 million children in 1.8 million preschools and schools. Deworming this many children on a single day is a considerable feat.
Evidence Action’s Deworm the World Initiative is the technical assistance provider to the Government of India, and is also working closely with seven state governments to implement National Deworming Day.
To increase the number of children dewormed this year, we wanted to bring private schools into the fold of this government-led program.
And we did: for the first time, 170,000 private schools dewormed their pupils across the country.
In Telangana alone, 3,034,900 children from 10,500 private schools were dewormed on National Deworming Day in Telangana. This is 30% of the total number of children dewormed in the state.
Why is it important to deworm children who go to private schools?
Worm infection is largely a disease of poverty. Poor children who live in areas without adequate sanitation are especially vulnerable. Reaching all children, regardless of their circumstance, is essential for reducing worm prevalence, so we devoted considerable effort on including private schools this year.
In India, thousands of private schools exist alongside government schools. Unlike in the United States, private schools are not only for the economically well-off and many cater specifically to children who are economically disadvantaged.
Across India, according to the most recent Indian Annual State of Education Report (ASER), 29% of total school enrollment in the country are in private schools, with five states having private school enrollment rates in the primary grades greater than 50%.
The state of Telangana, for example, has approximately 3.2 million children enrolled in 13,675 private schools, 35% of these children are from poor backgrounds.
With such large number of children attending private schools, parasitic worm control will only be possible with outreach to private schools – an area largely untapped by school health programs that are led and implemented by the government. Additionally, private schools exist throughout India, so what learned in Telangana is useful elsewhere.
What we did: Private school engagement in Telangana
Evidence Action started providing technical assistance to the Telangana state government in 2015. We knew that we had to figure out how to effectively engage private schools to extend deworming treatment to all children, and so tested a number of engagement approaches.
In the run-up to National Deworming Day, Evidence Action and the state government invited the Private School Association (a state-level autonomous governing body for private schools) to a state taskforce meeting. We discussed how important it is for private schools to participate in National Deworming Day. The number of poor children enrolled in private schools was an important consideration here, as was the urgent need to ensure they, too, benefit from India’s now-national deworming program. We urged private schools to think of themselves as key players in a 'worm-free' India.
Our attempt to connect the Private School Association to the cause of deworming worked – the Association has stated publicly that deworming is integral to children’s overall development and that it is committed to getting all children in the state dewormed. The Association also actively participated in engaging its member schools.
In addition to reaching out to the Association, we also had lots and lots of conversations with individual private schools across the state to learn more about them, and to build lasting relationships with key individuals.
We were thrilled that not only the number of children dewormed increased significantly, but were impressed by the ownership that private schools showed towards a government-led program. A case in point: the Association as well as individual schools sent over 200,000 SMS with reminders about National Deworming Day directly to teachers and parents.
We worked closely with the Association to plan for effective community outreach to individual private schools and to communities in even the most far-flung tribal villages. With them, we conducted community mobilization campaigns such as community announcements, rallies, posters, banners, and children’s activities.
The Association also trained about 6500 teachers on how to administer the deworming treatment. Our team at Evidence Action led some of the trainings sessions. The Telangana state government, in turn, did its part to bring private schools into the fold: It printed and distributed posters, banners, FAQs, and handouts to all private schools. It also put up 1000 billboards in public places to target parents of children who attend private schools.
The work in Telangana to reach children in private schools was an excellent start. But there is much work still to be done: There are many more children who attend private schools throughout the country whom we have not reached. As we plan for the next deworming round in August 2016, Evidence Action, along with government stakeholders, will continue to engage with private schools across the country in more innovative ways.
Private schools have already expressed their openness to reaching parents directly at parent-teacher meetings, School Management Committee meetings and other such collaborative forums.
We will continue to explore these options and more, as we work towards a National Deworming Day where every child, regardless of circumstance, is dewormed.
Bharati Dasgupta is Evidence Action's State Program Coordinator for Monitoring and Evaluation in Telangana, India. Katrin Verclas is Evidence Action's Communications Director.