Investing in the cognitive development of babies is an innovative way to fight poverty. Children, after all, are a country’s best resource. And helping them reach their potential pays long-term dividends.
Grand Challenges Canada is to be applauded for directing $11.8-million in government funding to 11 projects in the developing world, aimed at improving the health of new mothers and their babies.
The initiatives focus on mitigating the risk factors in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life – including infection, a lack of nurturing and stimulation – that can lead to permanent stunting and a failure to thrive.
One project will allow researchers in Bogota, Colombia, along with their collaborators in Quebec, to assess the impact of “kangaroo mother care” on premature babies. This form of marsupial-style caregiving envisions mothers, instead of incubators, regulating the temperature of their premature, low-weight babies by strapping them to their chests. Mothers are also the babies’ sole source of food and stimulation. With many hospitals in the developing world lacking neonatal clinics, this kind of intervention has already succeeded in reducing infant mortality. Now researchers will assess how “kangaroo mother care” influences a child’s brain development, including how well they perform in school, and in the work force.
A second project will assess the impact of Vitamin A supplements on a child’s early cognitive growth in Bangladesh, while a third will analyze the long-term impact of early malaria treatment for children in Thailand.
What do all of these ideas have in common? They are low-cost and local. They will help to create lasting change. And they can be replicated. Grand Challenges Canada, which was launched two years ago, has lived up to its promise to fund new ways to tackle global health challenges and work to improve the lives of mothers and children in developing nations.