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Changing behaviour to eliminate parasitic worm infections

24 January 2019

The World Health Organization considers health education and behavioural change interventions as key strategies towards the elimination of parasitic worm infections, alongside the provision of mass treatment, improving water and sanitation infrastructure, and snail control.

Behavioural change interventions involve encouraging local populations at risk of infection to adopt a new set of practices. These can include:

●       Being aware of the risks of water-contact activities such as playing or bathing in contaminated water

●       Encouraging the wearing of protective gear when farming and fishing

●       Encouraging the use of improved sanitation facilities i.e. those that are designed to hygienically separate excreta from human contact

●       Encouraging people to be accepting of treatment for parasitic worm infections.

Encouraging the adoption of these practices has proven difficult. Recent studies suggest that improving people’s knowledge of the diseases may not modify people’s practices.*

During November 2017, we conducted research in Malawi to identify motivating factors that could support behavioural change among poor rural communities. A number of motivating factors were found to appeal to both adults and adolescents alike:

●       Personal health benefits, both short-term, like curing symptoms of parasitic worm infections, and long-term ones, such as improving people’s capacity to work and study.

●       Collective health benefits concerned with the idea that achieving disease elimination can promote development in local communities.

●       Perceptions of disease centred on people’s views of being at risk of contracting the infections and of the diseases as a serious health problem.

●       Favourable reception of mass-treatment campaigns, since drugs are distributed for free and close to people’s homes.

We will be discussing these findings with officials in the Ministry of Health in Malawi to inform further treatment activities.

To learn more about our work please visit our How We Work section here.


* Sacolo, H., Chimbari, M., Kalinda, C. (2018) Knowledge, attitudes and practices on schistosomiasis in sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review. BMC Infectious Diseases, pp. 1-17. Available at: [Accessed 17th July 2018]


Dr Carlos Torres Vitolas, MER Advisor: Social Science