Prof. Zvi Bentwich has received a Grand Challenges in Global Health grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for his project in Ethiopia to wipe out parasitic worm infections.

Bentwich, 78, is a longtime member of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s department of microbiology, immunology and genetics, and heads the university’s Center for Emerging Diseases, Tropical Diseases and AIDS. He has labored for years to eradicate common parasitic infestations that contribute to Africa’s AIDS and tuberculosis epidemics, after his groundbreaking research uncovered a strong link between intestinal worms and immune system deficiencies in the 1990s.

The two cornerstones of Bentwich’s new program are a health-education campaign run by specially trained local students, and the provision of clean water and sanitation facilities. The test region in Ethiopia encompasses 30 schools serving an area with a population of 200,000.

Families in the test region will be educated by the students about the causes and symptoms of the parasite-caused diseases, and how to avoid contracting them. They will also be treated with anti-parasitic drugs. At the same time, the schools will receive fresh drinking water and latrines.

The effect of the two-pronged program on infection rates will be evaluated after 18 months.