Worm vs. Worms: a social media stunt that saves lives

Worm vs. Worms: a social media stunt that saves lives

This is a guest blog post by David Neal, medical student and Director on the Policy Team of the Cambridge-based Polygeia.

A new campaign asks you to help defeat life-threatening diseases caused by parasitic worms. All you need to do is use social media to share your attempt at the dance move “the worm” to raise awareness for one charity’s efforts to fight some of the most insidious diseases of the developing world.

That’s right. Don’t believe me? Check it out:


A dance campaign to fight parasitic worms

Worm vs. Worms aims to raise awareness of the scale of the problem caused by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), and to encourage donations to support access to essential medicines. Launched in the UK at the inaugural conference of Polygeia, a student-led think tank, Worm vs. Worms is supported by Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) and the END7, a campaign to end seven NTDs by 2020.

A group of students from the University of Cambridge challenged others to match their dance attempts and donations. Many people have already taken up the challenge, posting videos of their own individual and group attempts at “the worm” and donating to the cause. New participants are sharing videos on Facebook and Twitter, under the hashtag #wormvsworms.

In the UK, donations for the campaign are sent to SCI by texting WORM55 and an amount (e.g. £5) to 70070. At time of publication, the campaign had already raised about £250. It costs only 50p to provide medication to protect one person in the developing world for a whole year, so the new campaign has so far protected 500 people. In the US, challenge participants can donate through The Life You Can Save.

What are neglected tropical diseases?

NTDs affect over 1 billion people worldwide. They cause immense suffering, often leaving those affected disabled and disfigured. Despite the scale of their recognised contribution to global poverty, NTDs have long been under-funded by comparison to HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. END7 has previously drawn attention to the scale of the problem and cost-effectiveness of the solution with a video called How to Shock a Celebrity, which featured actors including Tom Felton and Eddie Redmayne.

WARNING: The following video contains extremely disturbing footage.

Critics of previous viral social media campaigns have suggested that such campaigns do not motivate people to work for real change on an issue and that the problems are instead trivialised. However, I believe that in the case of such a little-known cause, it can only be a good thing if the campaign continues to grow.

I think it’s important to introduce as many people as possible to NTDs and the suffering they cause. Sometimes it’s ok to make that engagement entertaining. When you care about issues that are serious, there’s always a danger of taking yourself too seriously as a person, and I’d like to think we’ve shown that this is something we aren’t doing!

As a fifth-year medical student and initiator of “Worm vs. Worms,” I’m amazed by how far the campaign had already spread. I think people are having a lot of fun filming their attempts—there’s something inherently hilarious about doing “the worm,” and it’s a challenge to try to pull it off better than the last person.

So, all that remains is to say: “I nominate you!”

David Neal is a Director on the Policy Team of Cambridge University-based student-led group Polygeia. He is a medical student in Cambridge and has a BA degree, also from Cambridge, in Psychology and Biological Anthropology. He has interned at the World Health Organization and the UK Department of Health. You can contact David at dpneal91@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @DavidPNeal1.

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The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.