Global Health, Global Prosperity

Global Health, Global Prosperity

Linda Schultz, MPH ’12, always wanted to do work with a global focus. She just didn’t imagine she’d be doing it in Washington, D.C.—where, as a consultant with the World Bank, specializing in health and education, she’s a critical part of a global campaign to eliminate river blindness and control other neglected tropical diseases.

A former elementary schoolteacher, Schultz was attracted to the job because of the World Bank’s emphasis on school-based health programs. As she explains, “schools are an important entry point to deliver simple health interventions to a subset of the population that is often poorly served by traditional health systems.” 

Common infections like schistosomiasis and hookworm are highly prevalent in children in developing countries and can cause kids to miss school. So at 50 cents per child per year, deworming is one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure that kids keep coming to school. And because parasites feed on nutrients, children who are regularly dewormed have better nutrition and are more likely to perform well in school and achieve their potential outside the classroom.

Schultz also contributes to efforts to wipe out devastating diseases like onchocerciasis, or river blindness, which is transmitted through the bite of infected black flies that breed in rapidly flowing bodies of water. River blindness causes severe itching, and, in the worst cases, blindness. But despite the widespread and devastating impact of the disease, global resources have traditionally been directed toward life-threatening diseases—hence the World Health Organization’s classification of river blindness as a “neglected tropical disease.”   

Before beginning her job in 2013, Schulz knew little about river blindness. But now she’s part of a global public-private partnership that’s charting a new course for people at risk. Since 1987, thanks to the drug ivermectin, health ministries in affected countries have made massive inroads against river blindness. Schultz supports a World Bank–managed trust fund that finances the distribution of ivermectin.

In areas where regular treatment is available, blindness from onchocerciasis no longer occurs, and both the labor force and land use have expanded. “It’s widely considered one of the most effective public health achievements of recent decades in Africa,” Schultz says. Experts hope that most of Africa will be rid of river blindness by 2020.

Her work at the World Bank has taught Schultz to appreciate the value of understanding and communicating health through an economic lens. “With a lot of the work we do, the strongest arguments are ones that frame the costs of intervention as investments,” she says.

Besides directly improving lives and livelihoods, Schultz is helping to reduce poverty. “To me, health is an equally important part of the World Bank’s effort to end poverty,” she says, “because countries can only thrive if they have healthy citizens who can lead fruitful lives.”