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Monday 24th October 2016

Studies to monitor child brain health

23rd October 2012

The Canadian government is funding series of projects in the developing world aimed at boosting the brain development of children.


Working on the basis that children are the foundation of any country's future development, the projects will target the cognitive potential of children in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The Canadian government has earmarked around US$12 million for eleven projects under the 'Saving Brains' initiative run by Grand Challenges Canada.

According to Grand Challenges Canada chief executive Peter Singer, his organisation sees an opportunity to improve brain development as an opportunity to develop a child.

A developed child would, he said, be able to fully contribute to the develop of his or her country.

The projects use specific interventions to target the children's living conditions during their first three days of life, enabling them to flourish.

The aim is to have such children pull themselves, and also their countries, out of poverty.

Inadequate brain development in children has been linked to a number of factors, including malnutrition, diseases like malaria, health problems during pregnancy and complications during childbirth.

A lack of nurturing and stimulation in early life can also hamper cognitive development.

Scientists from Uganda's Makerere University and from Burkina Faso's Centre Muraz has already studied the use of peer counselling to facilitate exclusive breastfeeding, in one project that has the backing of Canadian Prime Minister Laureen Harpe.

The study will now seek to establish whether cognitive function and the mental and general health of children once they reach age 5–7 is improved by exclusive breastfeeding, or by the counselling intervention.

According to Karlee Silver, Grand Challenges Canada's programme officer for women's and children's health, assessment of the children whose mothers had had access to peer counselling between 2006 and 2008 was currently under way, to see if there had been any impact on their cognitive development.

Meanwhile, researchers in Colombia will assess an intervention known as "kangaroo mother care" that encourages near-constant skin-to-skin contact between mothers and premature infants.

And a project in Pakistan will look at the effect of interventions to alleviate depression in pregnant women and mothers.

Researchers will be looking for ways in which potential improvements in interaction between mothers and children can affect children's development up to the age of 12.

The innovations were bold ideas that had the potential for considerable impact on cognitive growth in children in poorer countries, according to Silver.

She said that the funding was paying for the evaluative assessments of the interventions, many of which had already happened.

According to Kenyan speech therapist and educational psychologist Elizabeth Kruger-Scheltema, who works at the Kenyatta National Hospital, long-term solutions to address the cognitive development of young children are sorely needed.

Kruger-Scheltema said she hoped the assessments would deliver some long-term solutions.

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